05/18/2009, 00.00
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Four women elected to Kuwait’s parliament

Economic crisis and corruption play key role in changing the emirate’s politics. Local Islamists lose support. Because expatriates and their descendants cannot vote, only 10 per cent of the total population actually cast their ballot. Voters want stability and good economic policies.

Kuwait City (AsiaNews/Agencies) – In last Saturday’s parliamentary Kuwaitis elected four women to parliament, rejecting Islamists who saw their support slip. The country’s voters chose political stability, a clear direction for the country’s economy, a steady hand at the helm of government (compared to three elections and five governments in the last three years) as well as a plan to cope with the worldwide financial crisis.

Women, who got the right to vote in 2005, had not been able to get elected, until now. With four women going to the al Majlis al-Umma or National Assembly the Persian Gulf nation is making a major turn.

“It's a victory for Kuwaiti women and a victory for Kuwaiti democracy,” newly-elected Aseel al-Awadhi (pictured) said.

In addition to al-Awadhi, a professor of philosophy at Kuwait University, the other women elected are: Massouma al-Mubarak, a university professor and first woman appointed minister in 2005; Rola Dashti, a women’s rights activist and advocate of democratic and economic reforms who was listed among the 20 most prominent Arab women by the Financial Times last year and; Salwa al-Jassar, also women’s rights activist and chair of the non-governmental Women’s Empowerment Center.

The Emirate of Kuwait is a constitutional democracy. The crown is hereditary and the emir chose the prime minister and calls elections. And Kuwaiti politics have traditionally been conservative.

The first parliamentary elections were held in 1963, two years after independence (proclaimed on 19 June 1961.

Still even though it was the first Arab nation to adopt a constitution, its politics have been unstable, something which has affected its economic development.

High levels of corruption and constant bickering between the government and parliament have led to political deadlock many times; and this despite the fact that Kuwait is the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter.

The latest crisis occurred in March when parliament expressed its non-confidence in the prime minister, a nephew of the emir, for alleged financial irregularities and the failure to adopt an economic rescue plan.

Kuwait has a population of 3.4 million, including 2.35 million foreigner workers and their descendants who are not allowed to vote. Obtaining Kuwaiti citizenship is also very difficult.

In this election there were 384,790 eligible voters (10 per cent of the overall population), 54 per cent of them women.

A voter could select up to four names on a ballot for a district. The 10 candidates with the most votes won.

Some 210 candidates, including 16 women, ran in Saturday’s election.

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