Supporters of efforts to grant Kuwaiti women voting rights got a big boost in Saturday's election when liberal candidates more than tripled their numbers in the Persian Gulf's only parliament.
Liberal or liberal-leaning candidates secured 14 spots in the 50-seat National Assembly--up from four in the parliament dissolved in May. Pro-Islamic candidates won 20 seats, pro-government politicians, 12, and independents four in results tallied Sunday.
The position of all the new lawmakers on a decree that would permit women to vote and run in elections beginning in 2003 was not clear. However, because a two-thirds majority of 34 lawmakers would be required to block it, passage appeared all but certain.
Of Kuwait's 793,000 citizens, only the 113,000 men 21 and older who can trace their Kuwaiti roots several generations can vote. Along with women, members of the military and police are barred.
Kuwait's emir, Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah, had been frustrated by three years of bickering and criticism of his cabinet ministers that had overshadowed legislation.
"There will be change," said Jawad Abul-Qasem, a 45-year-old civil servant, after casting his ballot. "The last parliament just wasted time. We elected them to solve our problems, but we didn't see any results."
Deputy Prime Minister Sabah Ahmed Sabah was quoted by the daily Al-Rai Al-Aam that he wanted the legislative and executive powers to work "in harmony . . . as we enter the next century."
So do many Kuwaitis.
"I hope the next parliament will be moderate . . . and will not be too occupied with squabbles and silly concerns," said Buthaina Mogahwi, a psychotherapist ineligible to vote because she is a woman.
The new parliament, however, may not be off to a very good start.
For the first time since Kuwait established elected parliaments in 1963, the government has sued candidates for insulting cabinet members and the country's leaders. They had accused ministers of buying votes.
Several of the 288 candidates also were outraged that the cabinet passed 60 laws in the House's two-month absence, including the decree on women's political rights.
Some accused the cabinet of deliberately deflating their top campaign issues just days before the election by issuing two decrees addressing Kuwaitis concerns about jobs and housing.
The decrees are aimed at encouraging private companies to hire Kuwaiti citizens and shortening the long wait for free housing granted under a cradle-to-grave welfare system set up during oil-boom years.
Kuwait had planned to eliminate its budget deficit by 2000. Low oil prices, costs of the 1991 Persian Gulf War that ended the seven-month Iraqi occupation, and failure to implement economic reforms have left Kuwait with a $6.6 billion budget deficit this fiscal year.