06/27/2006, 00.00
KUWAIT
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Women vote for first time: unknown factor in parliamentary election

Islamic candidates are widely expected to win. Candidates say they want to fight rampant corruption in the oil-rich state.

Kuwait City (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place on 29 June in Kuwait. A victory for the Islamic parties has been predicted but there is an unknown factor: women's vote. Candidates have promised to fight widespread corruption.

Experts have forecast a clear victory for Islamic groups although they oppose the rights of women, who are voting for the first time and make up the majority of the electorate. There are 195,000 women eligible to vote compared to 145,000 men, which amounts to 75%.

"They [Muslim candidates] appear headed to increase their strength in the next parliament because they are more organized than others," said Adel al-Fouzan, head of the liberal Graduates Society.

Parties are banned in the state and candidates must register as independents, but Muslim and liberal groups operate as de facto parties. The Muslims themselves are further split into different groups that draw support from both the Sunni majority and the Shia minority, with complex reciprocal alliances. They are running in 21 of 25 constituencies, and they are expected to take the majority of the 50 seats up for grabs.

Many candidates won primary elections held by Bedouin tribes, thus guaranteeing the support of that tribe's voters.

"Islamists are well known and have charisma," said Nasser al-Abdali, the head of the Kuwait Society for Development of Democracy. "They have wide support among women."

This was indirectly confirmed by that fact that in the elections of Kuwait University, Muslims have always won all the seats for 27 years and more than 70% of the students are women.

Many parties have indicated fighting "rampant corruption" as a priority and have criticized the Al-Sabah dynasty, in power for 250 years. The government has also been charged with vote-buying.

Opposition MP, Mussallam al-Barrak, charged that 41 million US dollars were given to 19 pro-government candidates to buy votes, which cost 10,000 dollars each in some constituencies.

Another Opposition politician, Ahmad al-Saadun, said 141 million square metres of state land worth "several billion dollars" were "illegally" distributed.

Liberal candidate Abdullah al-Nibari said corrupt elements were planning to "obtain contracts in the energy sector worth 80 billion dollars over the next 15 years."

The country has a population of around two million inhabitants and a projected annual income of around 50 billion dollars. Important projects are in the pipeline estimated at 210 billion dollars over 20 years. But many candidates say corruption is rife even in minor things.

The country was the first monarchy in the region to introduce a constitution and free elections in 1962 and the first to allow women to vote.

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