JNN 01 Aug 2013 Kuwait : Kuwaitis vote for a new parliament on Saturday – the third in 17 months – after the most recent National Assembly was dissolved in June. And as a result Kuwait’s Shia minority has won eight seats in the parliamentary elections, official results show.
The final results showed early Sunday that liberals also made slight gains by securing three seats in the new 50-member parliament. Sunni groups won seven seats in the parliament.
Figures indicated that 52.5 percent of Kuwaitis took part in the elections, compared to December’s record low of 40 percent.
Most opposition groups boycotted the Saturday elections in protest against an amended electoral law that allows the ruling Al-Sabah family to change the voting rule to one vote per person, instead of the previous four votes.
The opposition says the new amendment paves the way for manipulation of the results of the elections and subsequent legislation.
They had also boycotted the last parliamentary vote that was held in December.
About 440,000 people were eligible to elect 50 legislators from among 300 hopefuls in the elections.
The elections came a month after the constitutional court dissolved the loyalist-dominated parliament, citing flaws in the procedures leading to the elections of December 2012.
Since May 2006, Kuwait has seen the formation of about a dozen cabinets.
Under Kuwait’s 1962 constitution, the ruling family holds key posts including the premiership and the ministries of defense, interior, and foreign affairs.
Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy and has the oldest directly-elected parliament among the Arab Gulf states, being first elected in 1963. It is also among the most powerful.
In addition to law-making powers, the unicameral National Assembly can hold the government to account. Even though the prime minister and the government are appointed by the emir, parliament has the power to veto government decisions and even dismiss the prime minister or any minister.
The emir, however, has the final say in policy decisions.
The Kuwaiti National Assembly is made of 50 elected MPs, who represent five 10-seat constituencies. Alongside them sit 15 unelected cabinet members, who enjoy the same voting rights as other members of parliament. Under Kuwait’s constitution, the government has to include at least one elected MP.
Over 300 candidates, including eight women, contested in the election. Political parties are not allowed in Kuwait, so candidates contesting parliamentary elections nominate themselves and run as independents.
Most of the candidates represent various tribes, liberals from the National Democratic Alliance, and Shia and hardline Sunni Salafist groups.
Many candidates have criticised the Kuwaiti government’s offer of $4bn (£2.6bn) in aid to Egypt, saying that the money would be better spent on solving the housing crisis in the country.
The opposition is also demanding that the constitution be modified.
Roughly two-thirds of Kuwait’s population are foreigners, mostly low-paid workers from Asia, and their treatment is a sensitive issue. In one opinion poll, almost half of respondents said the biggest change they would like to see after the elections is more leniency towards expatriates. Thousands of them have recently been deported from Kuwait due to problems with their visas or residency papers, or as a penalty for traffic offences.
In 2011, protesters stormed the parliament, calling for the resignation of former Prime Minister Nasser Mohammed Al Ahmed al-Sabah.
Compared to the parliamentary election in December 2012, the opposition is not as united in boycotting the polls this year. Many tribes and liberal candidates said they would participate this time.
There have also been allegations of vote-buying in the run-up to the polls, and more than 50 people have been arrested on these charges.
Although Kuwait was the first Arab state in the Persian Gulf to establish an elected parliament in 1962, the Al-Sabah family has remained in control of key posts. The family has enjoyed unchallenged power for over 200 years.