Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Kuwait election brings out hopes for democracy


Kuwaitis voted yesterday in elections for the all-male parliament of this oil-rich Gulf state, after a campaign marked by anger over squabbling among lawmakers and by hopes for political reform.

During campaigning, many liberal Kuwaitis complained about a system in which only men over 21 can cast ballots. Others accused the outgoing parliament of failing to deal with major economic issues such as privatization of the state-dominated economy.

"I hope that the next parliament will be better," said 36-year-old merchant Abdul-Samad al-Shatti, as he waited to vote. "I hope lawmakers will be able to make good on their promises and put the country's issues ahead of their personal interests."

Voting opened yesterday morning, with polls closing in the evening. First results were expect late last night.

Under Kuwait's system, the emir has the final say, with the ability to dissolve the legislature. Still, the 50-seat parliament does have significant influence: It must approve all legislation and has blocked the royal ruler's attempts to give women the vote.

Women, who have been kept out of politics since the country elected its first parliament in 1963, were invited to few rallies during campaigning.

However, scores of women came out for mock elections yesterday, which will not count but were attracting media attention.

Health inspector Salwa al-Azmi, 26, was the first woman to cast a mock ballot. "I was so excited, I couldn't sleep last night -- just like men couldn't sleep last night," she said.

Al-Azmi said she hoped to have a real vote in four years, when the next elections would be scheduled. She said she had studied all the candidates in her area before making her choice.

"I tried to make a balance between voting for members of my tribe and the programs of the candidates," she said.

Many voters cast ballots based on local ties rather than broader politics -- a fact that some candidates have tried to discourage, arguing that loyalties should be to the nation.

There are no political parties in Kuwait, where many fear this would bring political strife.

Candidates run as representative of three fundamentalist and two liberal "movements," or as independents.

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