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Kuwait Women Cast First Parliament Votes

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By DIANA ELIAS
The Associated Press
Thursday, June 29, 2006; 8:05 PM

KUWAIT CITY -- Some female voters came in buses and others stepped out of chauffeur-driven cars at polling stations Thursday, as women in Kuwait voted in parliamentary elections for the first time.

Women, who won the right to vote and run for office last year, comprise 57 percent of the electorate, and many were delighted to cast ballots for the first time.

"It feels like a wedding day," said Salwa al-Sanoussi, 45, who was one of the first to arrive at the segregated women's polling station in Dahyia, one of Kuwait's wealthiest areas. She wore black and covered her hair with a matching headcover.

Unofficial partial results were reported early Friday morning by Kuwait television, which said women candidates were trailing in nearly every district. But the station did not provide more specifics or percentages of the vote count, making it impossible to determine how far advanced the tallying was.

The reports said that four of the 50 parliament seats up for grabs had been decided with reformist candidates winning three and an independent winning the remainder. The first official results were expected later in the day Friday.

In Washington, the State Department said the participation of women in the elections was "a huge step forward" for Kuwait and the region. Saudi Arabia is now the only Arab country that holds elections but doesn't allow women to vote.

Khalida al-Kheder, one of 27 women running for a seat in parliament, was shocked by the behavior of conservative tribal women who arrived in large groups at the Sulaibikhat constituency and cheered loudly for male candidates.

"They brought them in buses," said al-Kheder, a physician. "This is not the image we wanted for democracy in Kuwait."

Al-Kheder also disapproved of the women's aggressive campaigning, shouting and waving placards in a country where women are traditionally discreet.

Many analysts predicted women would vote according to the wishes of their husbands and fathers, especially in districts where tribal and Islamic fundamentalist influences are strong.

But Hind Ibn al-Sheik said conversations with women at the polling station in her constituency led her to believe they were making their own decisions.

"They all had opinions," Ibn al-Sheik, a lawyer, told The Associated Press.


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