Kuwaitis cast their ballots yesterday in a snap vote to elect the fourth parliament in less than six years, with unofficial polls showing the Islamist-led opposition in the lead.
The vote in the wealthy Gulf state, which follows a campaign marred by violence, seeks to end political disputes that have hurt the country for years.
Female voters, dressed in clothes ranging from black traditional abayas to casual Western-style jeans, lined up in short queues in voting stations set up for women, as lines of men formed at separate polling booths.
Women voters make up 54 percent of the electorate and 23 women are among 286 candidates running for the 50-seat legislative body.
Pollsters and analysts expected the 400,000 electorate to deliver a resounding victory for the Islamist-led opposition, which has campaigned vehemently for fundamental reforms and against corruption.
The snap poll is taking place after Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah dissolved parliament following unprecedented protests led by youths inspired by the Arab Spring.
The protests led to the resignation of the previous government and former prime minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad Al-Sabah who was replaced by another senior royal, in a move unprecedented in the oil-rich emirate.
The elections are being held against a backdrop of heightened sectarian and tribal tensions, which this week erupted into violence.
Some voters expressed concern that the vote, which comes after one of the fiercest campaigns since Kuwait introduced democracy in 1962, would not help return stability.
“Psychologically we are not comfortable because of the bad situation in the country. We are very frustrated and worried about what is happening in Kuwait,” said one woman, Umm Saud, after casting her vote at Jabriya, 15km south of Kuwait City.
“I am not optimistic this election will resolve our problems, but I pray that I am wrong,” she said.
Fatima Akbar, a former school teacher, said she was “hopeful with caution” that the election would help stabilize the country.
“We are worried about the conflicts in Kuwait, especially sectarian tension” between the Sunni majority and Shiite minority, she said.
Sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites — who make up 30 percent of Kuwaitis — have intensified in past months, mainly over regional issues such as Bahrain, Iran and Syria.
On Monday, tribesmen burned the election tent of a pro-government candidate for remarks deemed derogatory to a Bedouin tribe. They also stormed offices of a local TV station for hosting another pro-government candidate.
About 30 international and 300 local observers have been allowed by the government to monitor the election for the first time.
Polling opened at 8am and were to close 12 hours later, with the first results expected early today as ballots are still counted manually.