Kuwaiti women make history in showdown election

Omar Hasan
KUWAIT CITY, June 28, 2006 (AFP) – Kuwaitis elect a new parliament Thursday after a highly charged campaign, with analysts predicting a strong showing by reformists that will set the stage for a showdown with the government.

Women will make history in the election both as first-time voters and candidates, one year after winning political rights.

Twenty-eight women are among 253 hopefuls vying for the 50 seats of the 11th parliament to be elected since the oil-rich Gulf Arab state embraced a parliamentary system in 1962.

Some 60 to 70 opposition candidates — comprising Islamists, liberals and nationalists — are standing. They include 28 of 29 outgoing MPs locked in a bitter dispute with the government that led to the dissolution of parliament on May 21.

"I believe most of the outgoing opposition MPs, if not all, will be re-elected, in addition to a number of other reformists," said Ibrahim al-Hadban, political science professor at Kuwait University.

"I expect the majority in the next national assembly to be reformist MPs who specifically call for reforming the election system to cut the number of constituencies to five" from the current 25, Hadban told AFP.

Outgoing MP and candidate Hassan Jowhar predicted the opposition would win 35 seats, while Nasser al-Abdali, head of the Kuwaiti Society for the Development of Democracy, expected them to take between 30 and 35.

"This will set the stage for a showdown in the next parliament between the government and the opposition. I think we are headed for a hot political confrontation," Hadban said.

Outgoing MP and candidate Basel al-Rashed branded it the "dirtiest" campaign in Kuwait’s history.

Opposition candidates, who made unprecedented accusations against the government and leading ruling family, said Thursday’s elections were the "most decisive" and would shape the emirate’s future for decades.

The level of criticism against the Al-Sabah dynasty, which has reigned for 250 years, has been astonishing.