Tuesday's by-election for a municipal council seat is being seen as a test-case of how women might fare in next year's parliamentary elections.

Two of the eight candidates running for the seat in the district of Salmiya, about 15 km southeast of the capital, are women.

They are Jinan Boushehri, 32, a chemical engineer who heads the food-testing department at Kuwait municipality, and Khalida al-Khader, 48, a US-educated physician and a mother of eight.

The seat became vacant when the council's speaker, Abdullah al-Mhailbi, was appointed to the cabinet in February.


Voting began slowly as Tuesday is a normal working day, but is expected to pick up before ballots close at 8pm (1700 GMT).

The district has 28,000 eligible voters, 60% of whom are  women.

Candidate Khalida al-Khader (R)
has her family's support 

Men and women are voting in segregated booths in accordance with a provision in the election law introduced last year by Islamist and conservative lawmakers.

Kuwaiti women were granted full political rights in a historic vote in parliament in only May 2005.

The government subsequently appointed two women members of the municipal council and named the first woman cabinet minister.

The council - a civic body that carries out tasks such as city  planning, organisation and regulation of housing - has 16 members,  10 of whom are elected and the rest appointed by the emir.

Kuwaiti women will also be able to vote in the general election scheduled for 2007.