June 30, 2006

Islamists, reformists win Kuwait vote

By Haitham Haddadin

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Powerful Islamist and reformist
candidates swept Kuwait's elections but women failed to win a
single seat in their first attempt to run for parliament,
results showed on Friday.

Analysts and newspapers said a strong showing by the
opposition -- a loose coalition of pro-reform ex-MPs,
Islamists, leftists and liberals -- raises the possibility of
deeper tension between the new assembly and the government.

Opposition candidates won two-thirds of the seats, state
media said, but the new parliament will remain exclusively

"Women failed us," said Zikra al-Majdali, a 39-year-old
lawyer who ran in an ultra-conservative Islamist area,
referring to hopes among female candidates that women -- voting
for the first time -- would help elect at least one of them.

"Forty years of struggle by women was distilled into only a
month to prepare (for polls)," candidate Aisha al-Rushaid told
Reuters. "It was a good experience we learned from, but
circumstances were not aligned in favor of women."

The poll was called after Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad
al-Sabah dissolved parliament in May, a year early, following a
standoff between the government and opposition over reforms.

Analysts said the election results were not likely to
resolve the dispute over the electoral reforms, namely demands
for the government to cut the number of constituencies to stop
malpractices such as vote buying.

Al-Qabas newspaper said the outcome was "a loss for
pro-government candidates."

"The same tension will be there," Mustafa Behbahani of
consultancy Kuwaiti Gulf Group told Reuters, adding the house
and government "may reach a compromise ... but if the status
quo stays, tension will heat up."


None of the 28 women among a total of 249 candidates won a
seat even though women make up 57 percent of the Gulf Arab
state's 340,000 eligible voters.

"The outcome was not unexpected but there's a feeling of
some sorrow," said Majdali. "Good luck to the men who won; I
hope all those promises to tackle women's issues don't turn out
to be just slogans."

Women won the right to run for office and to vote in May
2005 in the oil-producing U.S. ally. Overall turnout was heavy
at 65 percent but only 35 percent for women, state media said.

Other female candidates took the defeat in their stride.

"Oh yes, I will run again ... (women) were very supportive,
and Kuwait deserves that we continue," said candidate Rola
Dashti, 42, echoing views from others.

Dashti, an economist and symbol for female activism in
conservative Kuwait, got 1,539 votes, the highest number among
women and compared to 8,095 for ex-MP and outspoken opposition
candidate Musallam al-Barrak who led the race.

Experts had expected voting by the powerful conservative
Islamists and tribes would hurt chances of women candidates.

Results carried by state media showed the opposition,
united mostly by a stand against what they called
government-sponsored corruption, won two-thirds of the seats.

Twenty out of 29 reformist ex-MPs who formed the nucleus of
the opposition alliance were re-elected to the 50-member house.

They were joined in the National Assembly by at least 11
new members, including prominent figures in opposition circles,
new Islamists and young liberals with anti-corruption

The Islamists, who had a 15-man bloc in the previous house
and led the opposition, won the same number of seats if not
more, with one newspaper saying a total of 18 Islamists won.

(Additional reporting by Mahmoud Harbi and Yara Bayoumy)