KUWAIT CITY — Kuwaitis elected female parliament members for the first time and rejected a number of Islamic fundamentalist candidates in a weekend vote that many hoped would bring stability to the country's rocky political scene.
Women gained the right to vote and run for office in 2005 but failed in two previous elections to win seats in the 50-member parliament. Four women were elected in Saturday's vote, according to official results read by judges on state-owned TV on Sunday.
Kuwait has led the region in giving its people democratic rights. It has an elected parliament that wields considerable power, but the Cabinet is still chosen and led by a ruling family that holds ultimate power.
Radical religious politicians have fought against extending political rights to women. At the same time, they have pushed for full implementation of Islamic law, or Sharia, in the oil-rich U.S. ally.
"This is a message that the Kuwaiti society has started to move away from such movements that are based on hatred," said political commentator Sami al-Nisf.
Many voters also said they were tired of years of political upheaval sparked by parliament's frequent attacks on Cabinet members, which often lead to attempts to impeach ministers.
The resulting instability has virtually frozen development at a time when Kuwait is grappling with the global financial crisis and falling oil revenues, which account for 90 percent of government income.
"Frustration with the past two parliaments pushed voters to seek change. And here it comes in the form of this sweeping victory for women," said one of the women elected, Massouma al-Mubarak, who was also the country's first female Cabinet minister.
The 62-year-old political science teacher had once complained that she could not vote while her male students could.
All of the female winners have Ph.D's from the United States. Among them is economist and women's rights activist Rola Dashti, who battled in court for political rights for Kuwaiti women years before the legislature approved the suffrage bill.
The other two women are education professor Salwa al-Jassar and philosophy professor Aseel al-Awadhi.
The poor results for fundamentalist Muslims, Nisf said, represented a rejection of their efforts to push for social restrictions. Those politicians won 16 seats on Saturday, down from the 24 seats they held in the previous house. Meanwhile, liberal politicians who call for economic reform, more openness to the West and more freedoms gained one seat for a total of five.