A Kuwaiti female candidate said on Wednesday that she was "proud" of her strong showing in a municipal council by-election in which women took part for the first time ever despite failing to win the only seat at stake.
Jenan Bushehri, one of two women to contest the polls, came in second place with 1,807 votes behind tribesman Youssef Al Suwaileh who comfortably won the seat polling 5,436 votes in the landmark election.
"I am very proud of myself and the team that worked with me. I am very proud that I was a part of the new era of Kuwait that saw women participate in elections," Bushehri said after the results of Tuesday’s vote were announced early on Wednesday. "It was a very encouraging experience, but I have to sit and evaluate whether I want to run in the next municipal elections" in 2009, she said.
A 33-year-old mother-of-two girls, Bushehri is the head of the food examination department at Kuwait Municipality. Bushehri, a member of the oil-rich Gulf state’s Shia Muslim minority, holds a masters degree in engineering and is working on her doctorate.
Suwaileh was solidly backed by his tightknit Awazem tribe, the largest Kuwaiti bedouin tribe that has won the seat in the district of Salmiya, 15 kilometers (10 miles) southeast of the capital, in all previous municipal council elections.
The Salmiya seat fell vacant after council chairman Abdullah Al Muhailbi, also from the Awazem, was appointed municipality and environment minister in the new cabinet formed in Kuwait in February.
The other female candidate, Khaleda Al Khader, received just 79 votes and came in eighth and last place.
Judge Faisal Al Khuraibet, who supervised the elections, said that 10,646 voters cast their ballots out of 28,200 eligible voters of whom 60 percent were women, a low turnout of 38 percent. The turnout among women, who participated in the elections for the first time in Kuwait, was around 30 percent, according to unofficial figures.
Men and women voted in segregated booths in accordance with a provision in the election law introduced last year by Islamist and conservative lawmakers. Many women voters were covered from head to toe in accordance with conservative Islamic traditions but they were required to show their faces to judges supervising the elections for identification.
Prime Minister Nasser Mohammed Al Ahmed Al Sabah toured the polling stations along with several ministers and welcomed women’s participation.
"We are proud to see Kuwaiti women participating in the democratic process and hope to see them in every field," the premier said.
Kuwaiti women were granted full political rights in an historic vote in parliament only in May 2005. The government subsequently appointed two women in the municipal council and named the first woman cabinet minister.
The council – a civic body that carries out tasks such as city planning, organization and regulation of housing – has 16 members, 10 of whom are elected and the rest appointed by the emir.
Kuwaiti women will also be able to vote in the general election scheduled for 2007. At least five Kuwaiti women have publicly announced plans to run. The interior ministry in January completed the registration of some 195,000 women voters to raise the number of eligible voters to 334,000 in the Gulf Arab state, which has a native population of just under 1 million.
Kuwait, which sits on 10 percent of global oil reserves, also hosts 2 million foreigners. Women in the conservative Gulf have been making progress toward empowerment in recent years as more of them occupy high official posts, although the pace of progress has varied from one country to another.