Slow start to Kuwait poll as opposition boycotts

AFP , Saturday 1 Dec 2012

Ministry of information says turnout is positive but others claim it is low in a boycotted election, seen as a litmus test for the popularity of the opposition vs govt as they lock horns

A woman casts her ballot during the start of parliamentary elections at a polling station in Ardiyah Area December 1, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)

Kuwaitis cast ballots on Saturday to elect a second parliament in 10 months, but early turnout was low as voters appeared to heed an opposition call to shun the poll over a disputed electoral law.

The vote comes nearly two months after Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah dissolved the pro-government parliament after it was reinstated in June by a court ruling that also annulled an assembly elected in February.

The opposition, which held 36 of the 50 seats in the scrapped parliament, cannot win any in Saturday's election as it has not fielded any candidates among the 306 hopefuls, including 13 women.

Voter turnout is therefore being seen as the key test between the Islamist, nationalist and liberal opposition and the government led by the ruling Al-Sabah family.

And each side is already claiming success, although it is too early to draw a conclusion.

Opposition activists said on Twitter that the turnout was extremely low, especially in the tribal-dominated constituencies, while more activity was reported in Shiite-populated districts.

Bedouin chiefs in several areas have urged their tribes to boycott the election, and the turnout was reported to be very low in the areas of Sabah Al-Salem and Fintas, south of Kuwait City.

The opposition said it would deploy people to monitor the number of voters casting their ballot for fear the government may inflate the figures.

"The turnout has so far been positive," Information Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah Al-Sabah told state television which ran advertisements urging citizens to vote.

No official figures have been released.

At a polling station in Salwa, 15 kilometres (10 miles) south of Kuwait City, an AFP correspondent saw only a few people showed up among more than 4,600 eligible voters registered at the centre.

"I am voting because I care for my country. I am against the boycott calls," Mahmud Abedin said after casting his vote.

"Everything is made available to us by the government and the emir; good housing services, good salaries and many almost free public services, so why should we boycott," Abedin, a 47-year-old public sector worker, told AFP.

In the nearby area of Rumeithiya, there was more activity in the predominantly Shiite constituency but still far below the February polls or one in 2009.

"I believe that voting is a national duty especially after the emir has urged us," Nadya Mandani, a public sector employee told AFP after voting in Rumeithiya.

"I am very optimistic that the next parliament will be good and will cooperate with the government to resolve our problems," she said.

Ahmad Al-Ajeel, head of the National Election Commission, established for the first time, said the results would be announced before midnight.

On the eve of the election, the fifth since mid-2006, tens of thousands of opposition supporters staged a massive demonstration to urge voters to boycott the ballot over the electoral law.

Under previous elections, a Kuwaiti voter was able to pick up to a maximum of four candidates and this was reduced by the amendment to just one. Each of Kuwait's five constituencies elects 10 lawmakers.

Analysts see little hope the election will bring political stability to the wealthy Gulf state which has been rocked by lingering disputes stalling development despite abundant petrodollars.

The electorate is voting at around 100 polling stations in schools, with separate centres for men and women in line with the law.

OPEC member Kuwait has a population of 3.8 million, but 69 percent of those are foreigners and only 422,000 people are eligible to vote from among Kuwaitis who number 1.2 million.

The voting age is 21 and servicemen in the police and army are banned from taking part. Women voters make up 54 per cent of the electorate.

Polling closes at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) after 12 hours of voting, with the first results expected after midnight (2100 GMT) as ballot papers in Kuwait are still counted manually.

Short link: