Kuwait vote helps women's cause

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The Independent Online
THE FEW Kuwaitis who are allowed to vote took a short, surprising step towards the modern world yesterday. Of Kuwait's 793,000 citizens, only 113,000 are enfranchised, all of them men, over 21 and able to trace their local roots back several generations.

But their choices for the new National Assembly include 14 liberal- leaning members out of 50, up from four in the last one, which was dissolved by the emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, on 4 May for sniping too much at the unelected government dominated by his family.

This new parliament will vote on a decree granting women's suffrage beginning in 2003, and the new mix favours its passage. Pro-Islamists won 20 seats, pro-government candidates 12 and independents four. A two-thirds majority would be required to block the decree.

It is perhaps unfair to make too much of the democratic deficit in Kuwait. It is the only Arab Gulf state to have an elected parliament. And, with Qatar, it is taking the first steps towards female suffrage.