updated 5/17/2009 11:30:50 AM ET 2009-05-17T15:30:50

Four Kuwaitis have become the first women elected to their nation's parliament, a resounding victory in a conservative Persian Gulf country where the legislature has been men-only for almost half a century.

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. Official results from Saturday's vote were read out by judges on state-owned TV on Sunday.

Kuwait, one of the few democracies in the Gulf, has led the region in giving its people political rights. Some critics, however, say the country's political stability and economy have suffered due to the powerful parliament's frequent clashes with Cabinets that are still selected and led by the ruling family.

Saturday's election was the outcome of one such confrontation, which prompted Kuwait's ruler, or emir, to dissolve parliament and call the vote, the second time that has happened in a year.

Fundamentalists losing ground
One of the women elected, Massouma al-Mubarak, was also the country's first female Cabinet minister. The other female winners were women's rights activist Rola Dashti, education professor Salwa al-Jassar and philosophy professor Aseel al-Awadhi.

The election results also showed fundamentalist Muslims losing ground. They won 16 seats on Saturday, down from the 24 seats they held in the previous house.

Kuwait has no officially recognized parties. Candidates either belong to political groups, run independently or represent their tribes.

Voters casting ballots in Saturday's polls said they were tired of years of clashes between lawmakers and Cabinet members. Those clashes have sparked political crises that led to three elections and five Cabinets in three years.

The political upheaval has virtually frozen development in the oil-rich nation at a time when it is grappling with the global financial crisis and falling oil revenues, which account for 90 percent of government income.

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