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Kuwaitis vote in ‘election of hope’ for a new Kuwait

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: Kuwaiti voters head to the ballots on Thursday to elect a new parliament in a historic election, hoping to see an end to non-stop political bickering and put the oil-rich country back on the right track following years of turmoil. The snap elections were called after HH the Amir intervened and dissolved the National Assembly in August, barely 20 months after it was elected, after disputes between the former government and opposition MPs reached a deadlock.

The election, the 17th since 1963 when Kuwait became the first Gulf nation to embrace parliamentary democracy, also come after HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, through HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, appointed a new prime minister who is hailed as a reformist. HH Sheikh Ahmad Al-Nawaf Al-Sabah immediately took a series of measures to fight alleged corruption in elections by introducing two key reform decrees and cracking down on vote-buying and outlawed tribal primaries that were rife in previous elections.

The optimistic tone was set by an “historic” Amiri address, read by HH the Crown Prince, in which he pledged that the government will not interfere in the polls or in the election of the Assembly speaker. Candidates across the board hailed the speech as unprecedented and historic, saying it has paved the way for a bright future for the country and ends or at least contains political disputes and allows the government and Assembly to cooperate for the interests of Kuwait.

As a result of political disputes, Kuwait held 10 general elections since 2003, two of which were revoked by court, compared to just nine elections in the first 40 years of democracy. Between 2006 and now, parliament was dissolved five times and was revoked by the constitutional court on two occasions, reflecting high instability in the country, which has a sovereign wealth fund worth some $700 billion.

Since 2011, Kuwait changed three prime ministers, all senior members of the ruling family, and five Cabinets were formed since Dec 2019, in addition to many Cabinet reshuffles. As many as 305 candidates, including 22 women, are contesting the 50-seat parliament. They include 43 members of the dissolved Assembly and another 33 ex-MPs of previous assemblies.

Kuwait, with a native population of nearly 1.5 million, has around 770,000 eligible voters, a 35 percent jump from the Dec 2020 elections, mainly due to a government decision to allow residents of all new residential areas to vote. About 51.2 percent of the voters are women. Kuwait is divided into five electoral constituencies, with each district electing 10 MPs for the 50-member Assembly. Ballots open at 8.00 am and close 12 hours later. Counting of votes is still manual in Kuwait, so results are expected in the early hours of Friday.

 

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