Liberals, smaller tribes win seats in Kuwait election

Reuters, KUWAIT

Mon, Jul 29, 2013 - Page 6

Liberals and candidates from some of Kuwait’s more marginalized tribes have won seats in a parliament which may prove more cooperative with the ruling family after opposition Islamists and populists boycotted the election.

Saturday’s ballot was the sixth since 2006 in the major oil producer where political upheaval and bureaucracy have held up the vast majority of projects in a 30 billion dinar (US$105 billion) economic development plan announced in 2010.

Kuwait has the most open political system in the Gulf Arab region, but parliaments have been repeatedly dissolved over procedural disputes or for challenging the government in which members of the ruling al-Sabah family hold top posts.

“The large number of new MPs gives hope that a National Assembly with greater popular backing can find a way of improving relations with the government,” said Gulf expert Kristian Ulrichsen, at the US-based Baker Institute for Public Policy, referring to a 12 percent higher turnout than last time.

“The increased turnout ... signals that many Kuwaitis are ready to put the recent past behind them and move forward,” Ulrichsen said.

The turnout in searing heat and during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan was still lower than in several elections before last year.

The US ally has seen street protests in the past two years, including over changes to the voting procedures, but its generous welfare system and relative tolerance of dissent have helped to shield it from more serious Arab Spring-style unrest.

Voters also complained about a lack of development in Kuwait — one of the world’s richest countries per capita.

“The country is reeling from the deterioration of services and we need to treat the wounds to start a new phase with genuine cooperation between the two authorities,” new MP Issa al-Kandari said, referring to the government and parliament.

Newly elected Kamel al-Awadi said he would “work on all projects that move the economy forward” including housing and infrastructure projects. Many of these were touted in the 2010 development plan and have not been delivered.

The mainly Islamist and populist opposition boycotted the poll in protest against a new voting system announced last year, which cut the number of votes per citizen to one from four. Opposition politicians said this would prevent them forming a majority in parliament.

Shiites — estimated at 20 percent to 30 percent of the population — won just eight seats in the 50-member parliament compared with 17 in the last election in December last year, after Sunnis in their districts ramped up a campaign to win seats.

Political parties are banned so candidates campaign independently or with links to political movements.

Before the election the ruling emir courted groups unhappy about the new voting system and encouraged several of the country’s socially conservative tribes to endorse the ballot.