KUWAIT, (Reuters) – Women failed to win any seats in their first attempt to compete in a Kuwaiti parliamentary election, edged by powerful Islamist and other pro-reform ex-MPs who swept the poll, results showed on Friday.
Analysts and newspapers said a strong showing by the opposition — a loose coalition of pro-reform ex-MPs, Islamists and liberals — raises the possibility of deeper tension between the new assembly and the government.
“Women failed us,” Zikra al-Majdali, a 39-year-old lawyer and mother of four who ran in an ultra-conservative Islamist area, told Reuters, referring to high hopes among female candidates that women’s votes would at least get one of them into the National Assembly.
Thursday’s poll was called after Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah dissolved parliament last month following a standoff between the government and opposition over electoral reforms.
Analysts said the election results were not likely to resolve the dispute.
“It’s a heavyweight assembly that puts the government in front of some tough choices,” said al-Watan daily. Leading newspaper, al-Qabas, termed the outcome “a loss for pro-government candidates”.
“The same tension will be there,” Mustafa Behbahani of consultancy Kuwaiti Gulf Group told Reuters, adding the house and government “may reach a compromise between them … but if the status quo stays, tension will heat up.”
None of the 28 women among a total of 249 candidates who stood for office was able to win a seat in the race. Women make up 57 percent of the Gulf Arab state’s 340,000 eligible voters.
“The outcome was not unexpected but there’s a feeling of some sorrow,” said Majdali. “Good luck to the men who won; I hope all those promises to tackle women’s issues don’t turn out to be just slogans.”
Women won the right to run for office and to vote in May 2005 in the oil-producing U.S. ally. Overall turnout was heavy at over 65 percent, state media said.
“The vote is the only win for women,” lamented Arab Times.
Experts had expected voting by the powerful conservative Islamists and tribes would hurt chances of women candidates.
The results, carried by state media, showed the opposition, united mostly by a stand against what they called government-sponsored corruption, won nearly two-thirds of the seats.
Twenty out of 29 reformist ex-MPs who formed the nucleus of the opposition alliance were re-elected to the 50-member National Assembly.
They were joined by at least nine new members, including prominent figures in opposition circles, new Islamists and young liberals who ran on anti-corruption platforms.
The Islamists, who had a 15-man bloc in the previous house allied with the opposition, won the same number of seats if not more, with one newspaper saying a total of 18 Islamists won. Many Islamist ex-MPs were also in the bloc of 29.
“It’s a strong return for the bloc of 29 (reformists) and a reverberating defeat for independents,” al-Seyassah daily.