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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
Kuwaiti women's time has come
By Julia Wheeler
BBC News, Kuwait City

Kuwaiti women go to the polls for the first time on Thursday in the country's hastily called parliamentary elections.

Twenty-eight women from a total of more than 250 candidates are standing for office a year ahead of schedule.

Kuwaitis attend a parliamentary election rally in Dahiyet Abdullah al-Salem in Kuwait City on Monday
Kuwaiti women are already involved in most other areas of society

They have had a relatively short time in which to campaign - the polls were called early after a dispute about electoral reform between the government and opposition MPs.

It saw the emir dissolve parliament when the rebels called the prime minister to account over his government's actions.

The lack of preparation time - less than six weeks - is being given as one reason that women may not be as successful as they hope in this election.

Social change in the region is a gradual process and people take time to be convinced.

Kuwaiti women are involved in most other elements of their society, particularly business and education.

The country has the longest standing tradition of parliamentary democracy in the region, so it is anachronistic that it is one of the last Gulf states to give women their voice at the ballot box.

Map of Kuwait
The Islamists who voted against the move for so long on social and religious grounds have found themselves having to persuade women to vote for them.

Of course, they do not want to see women sitting in parliament - this, they maintain, is not the way of Islam.

Those campaigning on the religious ticket speak brightly of their chances and believe many of their supporters will prove to be women.

The female candidates too, are optimistic. Many of them are Western-educated and play important roles in other aspects of the community. They believe their time has come.

That view is reflected in the words of many young Kuwaiti women.

They say men have had the chance to prove themselves in parliament for more than 40 years and have failed. Now, they say, it is time to give women an opportunity in power.

Handbag 'corruption'

The campaigning in Kuwait has been dominated not only by the issue of women casting their ballot for the first time, but also by the subject of corruption.

Pro-government candidates have been accused of trying to bribe the electorate to vote in their favour.

One man told me that even the type of bribes have had to change now that women have the vote. Louis Vuitton handbags have reportedly been the currency of choice in at least one constituency.

No-one is prepared to predict the impact of women voting for the first time in Kuwait. Many believe there will be some surprises

Women candidates say bribery and corruption will be less of an issue if women are voted into parliament. They say women are less susceptible to such underhand measures.

The government may have thought the female vote would be a stabilising influence on the political landscape, calculating women are more likely to vote for pro-government candidates rather than reformists looking for change.

However, other groups see this as a miscalculation, particularly when the vote comes so quickly after an unprecedented battle in parliament over electoral reform.

No-one is prepared to predict the impact of women voting for the first time in Kuwait. Many believe there will be some surprises.

The chances of a woman sitting in the next parliament are slim it seems, but whether that parliament will be made up of a majority of pro-government, Islamist or liberal MPs also remains too close to call.




SEE ALSO
Kuwaitis vote in landmark polls
29 Jun 06 |  Middle East
First for women in Kuwait election
27 Jun 06 |  Middle East
Q&A: Kuwait election
26 Jun 06 |  Middle East
Kuwaiti leader calls new election
21 May 06 |  Middle East
Kuwaiti MPs confirm crown prince
20 Feb 06 |  Middle East
Conservatism threatens Kuwaiti reforms
21 Jan 06 |  From Our Own Correspondent



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