Twenty-eight women candidates had contested the 25-constituency race on Thursday, and yet, by just after midnight (2300 GMT), only male candidates had been returned.

 

The results indicated wins for Islamist candidates, with the Kaifan constituency returning both previous incumbents, one of whom, Waleed Al Tabatabaei, had last year voted against women being given the vote.

 

"This is good for us as we know he will protect us from things the government might do," said Tariq Nasser, a supporter in the crowd that had gathered outside Al Tabatabaei's campaign headquarters.

 

Fireworks and cheering greeted the announcement that both he and fellow Islamist Adel Al Sarawi had won the electoral district's two seats.

 

"Everyone knows they are both not corrupt and will look after us."

 

Meanwhile, the mood was more despondent in the camp of Rula Dashti, the leading women's candidate.

 

"It's like Mexico versus Brazil in football," said Dashti supporter and film-maker Walid Al Awadi "when it comes to the women and the men".

 

"The women just aren't experienced at this sort of thing. All the tactics and strategies that the male candidates have perfected over the years were employed - the women weren't even on the pitch."

 

Inexperienced women

 

Other female campaigners were more positive.

 

"In this election, many of us were expecting just men to get elected," said Walaa Al Muhaiteeb, a campaign worker for female candidate Nabila Al Anjari.

 

"In this election, many of us were expecting just men to get elected" 

Walaa Al Muhaiteeb,
campaign worker

"We were very inexperienced. But the next one - then I think we'll see the women in parliament."

 

Others said women were largely voting for male candidates.

 

"It's in their nature," said Salem Qabazard, brother of candidate Essa Qabazard, a moderate Shia candidate. About one-third of Kuwaitis are Shia. "Women want to see men elected. That's why we support women voting."

 

Many see it likely, though, that the amir, who appoints 15 members of parliament, will turn to some of the women candidates who were not elected. They might then be offered jobs in a new cabinet.

 

"This is the way they may try to co-opt the opposition," says Al Awadi. "I think it would be a mistake for the women to get involved, though."

 

"However, if offered, I would certainly discuss a role in cabinet," Nabila Al Anjari told Aljazeera.net. "But it would be very difficult to go into a government which is likely to be so unstable."

 

New government's challenges

 

Many are predicting that a new government will be faced with a string of difficult issues, some of which lay behind the assembly's dissolution last month.

 

The amir may appoint some of
the women to the government

"There are the questions of changing the constitution, of developing oil and gas fields, of changing the number of constituencies, and of whether or not to introduce taxes," says Al Anjari.

 

"All of these are very tough issues and the opposition which is today united against the government all want different things when it comes to these issues."

 

Final results are expected to be known by early morning. After that, an intense period of political horse-trading will be likely as the rival camps manoeuvre for power.

 

Meanwhile, for many of the young activists who campaigned to pull out the vote, expecting big changes, there is a tired sense of disappointment mixed with hope.

 

"I'm so tired I can't feel anything right now," said liberal activist Monir Al Wahidi. "But when you saw the lines of women from 8am queuing to vote - surely it was worth it for that."