(The women elected to the 50-member national assembly in Kuwait are, from left, Aseel al-Awadi, Rola Dashti, Salwa al-Jassar and Massouma al-Mubarak)
Women won four seats in the Kuwaiti parliamentary elections over the weekend, a historic first and one of several electoral surprises that appeared to reflect a deep popular frustration with the political deadlock in the oil-rich gulf state of Kuwait.
Liberal Kuwaitis celebrated the landmark with fireworks and parties after the elections on Saturday. Women gained the right to vote and run for office in 2005, but none had been elected until now. Many conservatives resisted the idea, and in recent weeks Islamists urged voters not to elect women to the 50-seat assembly.
The elections came two months after Kuwait’s ruler, Sheik Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, dissolved Parliament to end its latest standoff with the cabinet. It was the third time in three years that there had been such a standoff. Each time, lawmakers accused cabinet members of misconduct or corruption, creating a noisy spectacle and cabinet resignations. Sheik Sabah has consistently reappointed as prime minister his nephew, Sheik Nasser al-Muhammad al-Sabah.
The tensions have slowed economic reforms in Kuwait that many analysts view as essential.
Such tensions seem likely to continue, despite some noteworthy electoral shifts, political analysts said. Sunni Islamist candidates, who gained ground last year in the most recent election, lost some seats on Saturday, results showed. Liberals and independent candidates slightly increased their representation.
But many incumbents retained seats, including some who are widely considered to be responsible for the confrontations with the executive branch.
Voter turnout was down, and some popular incumbents won by narrow margins, in an apparent sign of discontent with many members of Parliament over the political turmoil.
“The main theme of this election was frustration,” said Ghanim al-Najjar, a newspaper columnist who is a professor of political science at Kuwait University. “People have a negative attitude toward the M.P.’s.”
Kuwaitis are proud of their relatively democratic political traditions, an exception in a region dominated by autocracies. Parliament sets the emir’s salary and is the nation’s sole source of legislation.
But many believe that their country, one of the world’s leading oil exporters, has fallen behind its autocratic gulf neighbors Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Some Kuwaitis are eager for public investment and economic reforms, and say the constant parliamentary battles are to blame.
The election of women to the assembly is a separate matter and a source of intense pride for many Kuwaitis.
The winners were Rola Dashti, an American-educated economist; Salwa al-Jassar and Aseel al-Awadi, who are both professors; and Massouma al-Mubarak, who in 2005 became the country’s first female cabinet minister.
Some Kuwaitis said the election results might be less important than the announcement of the new cabinet in the coming weeks.
“If it’s the same cabinet and the same prime minister, we will get the same result again,” said Nasser al-Sane, an Islamist and former Parliament member.
video source: AlJazeera English