By Nancy K. Matthis | Thursday, June 29th, 2006 at 11:20 pm
Largely ignored by the provincial American mainstream media, Kuwait made history today. For the first time, women were able to run for office and to vote in the national elections. From BBC News we get the basic facts:
Despite Kuwait having the oldest parliamentary tradition in the Gulf, dating back to the early 1960s, it is one of the last to allow women to vote in national elections.
This has been an embarrassment for many Kuwaitis who have enjoyed perceiving themselves as leading the way in terms of suffrage.
Ironically, it has been Kuwait’s tradition of parliamentary democracy and its adherence to this principle which has helped postpone women getting the vote.
Moves towards women’s representation in other Gulf states have been brought in from above by the ruling families of the countries, rather than from below by the people themselves.
However, in Kuwait, the existence of an established parliamentary system has meant that traditionalist MPs had a means of voting against the move.
So it was that in 1999, the then Emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, saw his royal decree in favour of women voting rejected by the National Assembly.
Islamist and tribal MPs voted it down, arguing the move was anti-Islamic and against the traditions of Kuwaiti society.
The struggle by women’s rights activists – male and female – continued for a further six years until a bill calling for universal suffrage was passed in parliament.
Analysts believe the eventual winning of such rights in this more democratic way means they are now more legitimate in the eyes of Kuwaitis than if they had been imposed from above….
The Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram gives more of the sense of the moment in history:
Women and youth spice up elections
Confrontational and aggressive, will the Kuwaiti elections succeed in establishing a real democratic state with representation for all?
Today Kuwaiti men and women are heading to the ballot boxes distributed over 25 constituencies, each to stand alone behind curtains making their choice. Royalty across the Gulf are taking note of the way these Kuwaiti elections are played out, for these countries all have one thing in common: they are all moving in the same direction — towards greater representation for their people.
Today’s elections, a year earlier than scheduled, have a different edge — in everything from campaigning, to electoral platforms, monitoring and even in candidacy and voters’ nature.
Kuwait is originally divided into 25 electoral districts, with two seats up for grabs in each. Up to 15 further seats in parliament are reserved for government ministers, who are all appointees rather than elected representatives.
Today around 253 candidates are standing, ranging from conservative Islamists to liberals, pro-government candidates and independents.
According to Kuwaiti media, 47 MPs in the dissolved assembly are standing for re-election.
The emir dissolved parliament amid a row between reform-minded MPs and the government over changes to the electoral system.
With a decision to dissolve parliament and a call for early elections adopted on 21 May, Kuwaitis were left with little time to prepare, especially women who are newcomers to the electoral process. But all proved willing to take charge, above all, Kuwaiti youth. Mostly educated in the United States and several participating in the 2004 US elections, they have imported their experience in the West and “Kuwaitised” it to suit their country….
…. elections in Kuwait could demonstrate the breaking of many longstanding traditions, both between generations and genders. The mere fact that Kuwaiti women are able for the first time to both stand and vote at the national level has drawn the attention of the world. Women’s votes will be particularly important, especially since the number of women eligible to vote is about 200,000 compared to 145,000 men.
Expectations are high, enthusiasm is everywhere. All want to gauge what effect women voters will have on the make-up of Kuwait’s National Assembly. It was interesting to watch women and men sitting side by side in diwaniyas, listening to different candidates in order to make their choice. Ironically, it was the agendas of male candidates that mostly tackled gender issues, although it was their first time to do so in parliament.
“We women got fed up. All through the past 25 years no one ever thought of solving any of our social problems but today, after we had become an influential element, they topped their programmes with our issues,” commented Fatima Al-Abdali, a candidate in the Daiya constituency.
Fatima and a handful of other female candidates have been attacked for joining the electoral race; their billboards were mutilated and threats were sent to their houses urging them to quit the whole process. “I have the strongest CV, I am a threat” replied Fatima, adding that she was not concerned….
With such a new and different electoral process, it is evidently unpredictable what sort of parliament will be formed. Though many argue that chances for women candidates, a total of 28, are low, while the voting power of the female electorate is outstandingly high….
They called for transparency. For the first time in the history of the country, national campaigns to counter the buying of votes were launched by newspapers and groups including “Nazaha” (integrity) and “Election Transparency”. The Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior has decided to introduce see-through ballot boxes for the elections. This week, the chairman of the Kuwait Elections Transparency Society praised the three women who presented their testimonies in the “buying votes” cases as being heroes.
Kuwait, like other Arab countries, has a wide range of ideological strands — from militant Islamists to secular liberals — and these are all competing for power. Who will win the race? It will not be long until we know.
Kuwait TV estimated late in the day that about 80% of the electorate turned out in dangerously hot temperatures. Women who came to vote were greeted with flowers and sunshade umbrellas. All across the Middle East, men and women stand together on the brink of a whole new world. We fervently wish them well.
UPDATE (11:32 pm): Early returns indicate that, although 28 of the 252 candidates were women, none of them were elected this time. But they have had a taste of campaigning. Perhaps they will spend the interval until the next national election preparing for another run.
Nancy Matthis is the publisher and executive editor of the weblog format news magazine and multimedia outlet American Daughter Media Center.
Send a link: Tell a friend about this.|
Link to this post: Permalink
Send us your link: Trackback link
Filed under: Islamic Issues|
Tags: Islamic Issues, Middle east