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Kuwait Women Savor Vote Role

From the Associated Press

Female voters Thursday went to the polls for the first time in Kuwait’s parliamentary elections, many delighted to cast their ballots.

“It feels like a wedding day,” said Salwa Sanoussi, 45, one of the first to arrive at the women’s polling station in Dahiya, one of Kuwait’s wealthiest areas. She wore black and covered her hair with a matching head scarf.

Some women arrived in buses and others stepped out of chauffeur-driven cars. Women, who got the right to vote and run for office last year, constitute 57% of the electorate.

Unofficial partial results were reported early today by Kuwait TV, which said female candidates were trailing in nearly every district. But the station did not provide specifics or percentages of the vote count, making it impossible to determine how advanced the tallying was.

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In the first turnout figure to be issued, state television reported that in the Kuwait City suburb of Qibla, 66% of female voters and 77% of male voters had cast ballots.

The reports said four of the 50 parliament seats up for grabs had been decided, with reformist candidates winning three and an independent winning one.

In Washington, the State Department said the participation of women in the elections was “a huge step forward” for Kuwait and the region. Saudi Arabia is now the only Arab country that doesn’t allow women to vote.

Khalida Kheder, one of 27 female candidates, was shocked by the conservative tribal women who arrived in large groups at the Sulaibikhat constituency and cheered loudly for male candidates.

“This is not the image we wanted for democracy in Kuwait,” she said.

Many analysts predicted that women would vote according to the wishes of male relatives, especially in districts where tribal and Islamic fundamentalist influences were strong.

But lawyer Hind ibn Sheik said conversations with women at her polling station led her to believe that they were making their own decisions. “They all had opinions,” she said.

The election sparked a surprisingly strong campaign for reform in Kuwait, where the ruling Sabah family has long headed the government.

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Reformist candidates, who include Islamic fundamentalists and secular activists, spoke out against corruption, accusing ministers and even members of the ruling family of mismanagement and waste.

Authorities did not curb the campaigns, but the emir, Sheik Sabah al Ahmed al Sabah, expressed “deep hurt and dismay” at the “low level of dialogue.”


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