The decision on Monday, finalised after several years of debate, was passed by a 35-23 vote after one legislator
abstained.  

It was in an amendment to the conservative Gulf emirate's election law.

The result, announced by the parliament speaker, was greeted with thunderous applause from the public gallery where supporters of the amendment, including women, were gathered.

Applauded

"I congratulate the women of Kuwait for having achieved their political rights," Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah said.

However, conservative Muslims included an article in the bill requiring that any female politician or voter abide by Islamic law.

Women in the parliament gallery
cheered as the bill was passed 

It was not clear what limits this may put on women's rights.

But in no way did it dampen the spirits of the supporters of the amendment.

"I am overjoyed. I can't believe this," activist Rola Dashti said, adding that she would run in the next parliamentary election in 2007.

"I am starting my campaign as of today," she said.

Dashti said she was not concerned by the vague reference
to Islamic law, saying it probably just meant separate
polling stations and not an Islamic dress code.

"They can't impose veils on voters," she said.

Parliamentary polls

The bill, however, comes too late for women to participate in
municipal elections in June. The next polls they can vote
and run in will be the 2007 parliamentary elections.

Kuwait's cabinet had asked for the vote earlier on Monday in
a surprise move after a number of attempts had been stymied
by conservative lawmakers, who successfully inserted the
Islamic law article in the final bill.

Conservative lawmakers had
stymied the bill several times

Women activists have for years been pushing for their
right to vote and run for parliament, but several attempts to give them political rights have over the years been
defeated in the house.

Massuma al-Mubarak, a political analyst and professor at
Kuwait University, said the parliament approval was long overdue.

"This is the right thing to do," she said. "It is no favour from anyone."

She said, however, that any conditions put on the bill would be a violation of the constitution.

'No nonsense'

"When you put conditions only for women, this is
extra-constitutional. The constitution puts no conditions
on anyone," al-Mubarak said. "No dress code, no Islamic law and no nonsense."

Although Kuwaiti women have reached high positions in oil,
education and the diplomatic corps, the country's 1962 election law limited political rights to men.

With only men over 21 who are not members of the police or the military allowed to vote, just more than 139,000 are registered to cast ballots out of 960,000 Kuwaitis.

With women over 21 voting, as stipulated under the new law, the figure could reach 339,000.