The group includes prominent Islamists - such as the former head of the Sunni Muslim Salafist movement - and its call may influence Islamists in parliament who have opposed earlier attempts to grant women the right to vote.

 

"The Umma Party calls on parliament and the government to ratify political participation for women," the statement from the group set up last month said on Monday.

 

The group is yet to be recognised in Kuwait, where political parties are banned.

 

The party has three supporters in the 50-seat parliament but it was not immediately known whether those MPs will abide by its decision.

 

The statement said it supported "political participation by women in voting and running for election based on general texts of Islamic Sharia (law) and edicts of contemporary clerics".

 

Motion filed

 

Ten liberal and Islamist parliamentarians last week filed a motion to ask a constitutional court to review election laws to try to help women's rights.

 

The motion has to be approved by parliament, and Speaker Jassim al-Khurafi was quoted as saying its approval did not mean a "single woman would ever be elected".

 

Islamist and tribal legislators are
firm opponents of women's vote

Kuwait's Western-backed government last year proposed a women's suffrage bill but the parliament has not set a date for debate.

 

In 1999, Kuwait's emir issued a decree granting women the right to vote but it was defeated in parliament by Islamist and tribal lawmakers.

 

Kuwaiti women may have inched closer to achieving the vote when several Islamist lawmakers said last year said they would back allowing women to vote but not run in elections.

 

Nearby Gulf Arab states Bahrain and Qatar allow women to vote and stand for election.

 

Kuwaiti parliamentary elections are scheduled for July 2007. Among Kuwait's population of 956,000, only 140,000 men are eligible voters.