Kuwaiti women make history in showdown election

Several candidates accused senior members of the establishment of working against the constitution and democracy, but no one has questioned the legitimacy of the Al-Sabah family.

"We will never reach that level and no one is in fact trying to do so," liberal writer Ahmad al-Sarraf told AFP. "The criticism is just adding spice to the election campaign."

OPEC member Kuwait, which has 10 percent of global oil reserves according to official figures, is enjoying an economic boom thanks to strong oil prices, and its assets are estimated at more than 150 billion dollars.

Veteran opposition candidate and former parliamentary speaker Ahmad al-Saadun, who has launched scathing attacks on the government, charged at a rally Monday that "corruption forces" were planning to seize power in Kuwait.

Hundreds of rallies attracted record crowds, mainly because of intense campaigning by women and young people who had no input in previous polls.

About a dozen youth organisations were formed before and during the campaign, and many candidates invited their leaders to speak at rallies.

"Our role has been to mobilise the voters in the battle against corruption. We have been going door-to-door to urge the people to vote for reformist candidates," Nabil al-Mufarreh, head of the National Union of Kuwait Students and a leading activist, told AFP.

Sami al-Mani, head of the youth group Kuwait Alliance, said his members convinced hundreds of voters to cast their ballots for reformist candidates.

The number of women attending election rallies has been impressive, with all candidates holding special meetings in a bid to win their votes.

Women comprise 57 percent of the 340,000-strong electorate in a population of just one million.

"No one had expected them to turn out in large numbers at rallies," said Fatima al-Baker, a writer and member of the Union of Kuwaiti Women Associations.

"I think their participation could dramatically change the Kuwaiti political landscape. I expect a better and stronger parliament because of active women’s participation as voters," Baker told AFP.