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Kuwaitis return to the polls, again

Latest update : 2008-05-17

The Gulf state votes for the second time in two years, under a new system with fewer constituencies. More than half the voters are women in an election with several female candidates.

Kuwaitis began voting on Saturday to elect a new parliament in this oil-rich Gulf state which has been rocked by political turmoil that resulted in two parliaments being dissolved in as many years.
  
Twenty-seven women are among 275 candidates running for the 50-seat legislative body, after a campaign focusing on ways to end political wrangling and put the wealthy OPEC state back on the track of development.
  
In Jabriya district, 12 kilometres (seven miles) south of Kuwait City, hundreds of women gathered outside the polling station more than an hour before voting began.
  
"I voted for a new face that was not in parliament before and whom I think has new ideas," Fatima Mubarak, a young housewife, told AFP after casting her ballot.
  
"We are fed up with political crises which halted any achievement. We are fed up of lots of talk and no actions," she said, adding that "I voted for change and achievement."
  
The early election is being held after Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah dissolved the Gulf state's parliament in March for the second time in 22 months over a standoff between the government and the house.
  
The polls are being contested under a new system in which the number of constituencies has been cut from 25 to five, a demand which united the opposition in the June 2006 polls.
  
Women are standing and voting for only the second time. No female candidate won a seat in the last polls.
  
Thekrayat Abdullah said she wants the next parliament to focus on essential issues such as education, health and the high cost of living.
  
"I voted for change for the best. I want the next parliament to resolve problems facing Kuwaiti women and also to confront sharp rises in prices," Abdullah told AFP.
  
About seven Sunni and Shiite Islamist, liberal and nationalist opposition groups are fielding some 45 candidates and backing 20 others, according to an AFP survey. But they are less united than they were two years ago.
  
Kuwaiti tribes, which constitute half of the electorate, are fielding around 35 candidates.
  
Thirty-eight members of the outgoing parliament and 14 from previous parliaments are seeking re-election.
  
There are 94 polling stations in schools, 47 each for men and women who vote separately in line with the law.
  
About 361,700 people are eligible to vote in a country with a native population of just over one million. The voting age is 21 and servicemen in the police and army are banned from taking part in the ballot.
  
Women voters -- 200,500, or 55.4 percent of the eligible electorate -- outnumber their male counterparts at 161,200.
  
The polls opened at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) and will close 12 hours later, with the first results expected early on Sunday as ballot papers are still counted manually.
  
Analysts have predicted that more than half of the outgoing MPs will lose their seats, but Sunni Islamists and tribal conservatives are expected to retain a majority in the new assembly.
  
Parliament in oil-rich Kuwait, which is elected for a four-year term, has legislative and monitoring powers and can vote ministers out of office. Unelected ministers become ex-officio members of parliament.

Date created : 2008-05-17

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