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Muslim hard-liners gain in Kuwait vote

Religious conservatives picked up 2 seats to hold 24 - nearly half of the 50-member parliament.

KUWAIT CITY - Muslim hard-liners made strong gains in Kuwait's parliamentary elections while female candidates failed once again to win any seats, official results showed yesterday.

Religious conservatives, both Sunnis and Shiites, gained two seats to hold 24 - nearly half of the 50-member parliament, according to results read on state-owned Kuwait Television.

Westernized liberals kept their four seats, and came close to sending the first woman to the parliament of this small, oil-rich U.S. ally. Aseel al-Awadi, 39, a philosophy teacher, came in 11th in her district. The first 10 were declared winners.

Elections were held after relations between the cabinet and parliament broke down and Kuwait's ruler dissolved the legislature in March. The outcome of Saturday's polls, however, does not bode well for ending those tensions.

Kuwaitis voted mostly along tribal and sectarian lines, bringing back incumbents who promised them salary increases and vowed to use public money to forgive consumer debt - moves bitterly opposed by the government.

Those lawmakers are likely to continue their squabbles with the government, which plans to reform the country's economy with unpopular measures like introducing an income tax and privatizing services that have been heavily subsidized for decades.

"We're back to square one," said Shamlan al-Issa, a political science teacher at Kuwait University.

Women, who won the right to vote in Kuwait in 2005, accounted for about 55 percent of the more than 361,000 voters. But none of the 27 female candidates Saturday made it to parliament. Women also failed to get elected in 2006.

The government of Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed al-Sabah has appointed two women as cabinet members since 2005.

Some candidates blamed the recent political gridlock on struggles within the ruling family, while others said it was because political parties are not officially recognized in Kuwait.

"We expected Kuwaiti voters to be more aware," said Najla al-Naqi, 42, a lawyer who ran for a seat. "We had hoped for new young faces, for one woman at least."

Kuwait is the sixth-wealthiest country in the world per capita, with a gross domestic product of $55,300 per resident.

Formal political parties are banned, though there are about seven de facto alliances representing Sunnis, Shiites, groups known as liberals and opposition members advocating popular issues, such as improving health care and raising government salaries.

About 70 percent of the approximately one million Kuwaiti citizens are Sunni Muslims, with the balance Shiites.