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Kuwaiti women run for office for first time

Posted by ssbg on April 5, 2006

WOMEN made history in Kuwait yesterday by voting and running for office for the first time in a local by-election after the conservative, US-allied Gulf state granted them suffrage last year.

Polls opened at 8am (0500 GMT) for the vote to fill a single seat in the Municipal Council, a 16-member body. The rest of the members were elected and appointed last year.

"Today is the biggest feast we have been waiting for for more than 40 years," Khaleda al-Khadher, one of the two female candidates, told Reuters at a polling station in Salwa suburb.

"This is the first time Kuwaiti women can show the men that we are capable, it is important that we do our best and leave the outcome of the polls to God," added Khadher, wearing a conservative black Islamic-style dress.

Some 28,000 voters, including 16,000 women, are eligible to cast ballots for the eight candidates, who include two women.

Last May, parliament passed a government-sponsored bill granting suffrage to women who had fought for their political rights for more than four decades.

The United States has urged Middle Eastern states to reform their political systems.

Yesterday's election paves the way for women to take part in 2007 parliamentary polls, which will be the first since Kuwait's new ruler, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, took office this year after the death of his half-brother.

"This is a historic day," said an announcer on state-run Kuwait Television, which carried live footage of male voters in traditional white robes standing in line with women, some black gowns covering them from head to toe.

Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah said in remarks published yesterday that the political participation of women would boost Kuwait's international standing.

"We are proud and we are honored," the prime minister said.

Kuwaitis voted in wider municipal polls last June but women could not take part because the suffrage bill was delayed in parliament by conservative Islamist and tribal MPs' opposition.

Shortly after women won the vote, the reformist government appointed its first female Cabinet minister.



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