Kuwaiti women added to voter rolls for the first time

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Kuwait’s newly-enfranchised women have been added to the voter rolls for the first time, and the country now has more women voters than men, the interior ministry said on Wednesday.
The government decided to register the women as voters automatically because it feared February, the only month during which voters can register, would not give sufficient time to enroll the country’s women in time for the 2007 parliamentary elections, Brig. Khaled Al Osaimi, told reporters.

No date has been set for next year’s elections, but should the 50-seat men-only house have been dissolved before women were registered, they would not have been able to run for office or cast ballots.

Al Osaimi’s legal affairs department oversaw the automatic transfer of names of eligible women from the computer system of the state agency that issues civil IDs to the interior ministry, which manages elections.

Al Osaimi said 194,614 were now registered voters compared to 139,179 men. However, the figures are not final because many unregistered men were expected to sign up next month.

Also, most of some 56,500 women who did not qualify for registration will have the chance to challenge the decision in February.

Parliament passed a suffrage bill in May, giving women the vote and right to hold office. The Cabinet appointed its first female member, Massouma Al-Mubarak, about a month later.

Kawthar Al Joan, a lawyer and a women’s rights activist, said the automatic registration made it easier for women to take part in the elections, but the society still must learn to “accept the participation” of females in politics.

“It is a new experiment for women and the whole society,” she said.

Although women have reached high posts in education, oil and the diplomatic corps, tribal and conservative Muslim lawmakers believe that women mixing in parliament and election campaigns is unacceptable and that women should stay home to care for their families.

Tribal and extremist lawmakers have said in Parliament that although they voted against political rights for females, they will make sure — now that it is a fact, that they benefit from women’s votes in their precincts.

Businesswoman and journalist Aisha Al Rsheid, who was already campaigning for a seat in parliament, said she was optimistic some 150,000 of the registered women will go to the polls and should “make sure they don’t vote for those [lawmakers] who voted against granting them their rights.”

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