Kuwaitis vote with little end in sight to disputes

AFP , Saturday 27 Jul 2013

Polls open in Kuwait for the Gulf emirate's second general election in eight months with turnout the key issue as the opposition called for a boycott

Kuwaitis vote Saturday in the Gulf emirate's second parliamentary election in eight months, with opposition groups boycotting polls that are not expected to end years of bitter political dispute.

The election -- the oil-rich state's sixth in as many years -- comes after a dull campaign that failed to jolt apathetic voters into action.

Most opposition groups are boycotting the election for the second time since the last vote in December, in protest against an amended electoral law even though the constitutional court upheld it in June.

They charge that it allows the government to manipulate election results and subsequent legislation.

In previous elections, a Kuwaiti voter was able to vote for a maximum of four candidates for the country's 50-seat parliament, but under the amended law voters can choose only one.

The opposition has failed to organise mass rallies as it did ahead of the December polls, but has remained adamant that it will not take part in a "corrupted" political system.

The National Democratic Alliance, a liberal grouping, and most bedouin tribes which boycotted the previous polls, are taking part this time. A handful of opposition members are also standing for election.

Analysts see little hope the election will bring political stability to this wealthy Gulf state, which has been rocked by lingering disputes since mid-2006, stalling development despite an abundance of petrodollars.

Just days before polling day, the authorities arrested at least four candidates and dozens of their election workers on the accusation of vote-buying amid allegations of rampant corruption.

Only a few opposition members are among the 300 hopefuls contesting the 50 seats.

They include eight women, the lowest number of female candidates since women won political rights in 2005.

Four Kuwaiti women made history in 2009 when they won seats in parliament for the first time. No woman was elected in February while three won seats in December.

Voting will take place at 100 polling stations set up in schools, with separate centres for men and women.

The interior ministry has mobilised 11,000 police for the election and the government has allowed international monitors.

Kuwait has a population of 3.9 million, but 69 percent of those are foreigners and only 440,000 people are eligible to vote from among Kuwaitis who number 1.23 million.

The voting age is 21 and servicemen in the police and army are banned from casting ballots. Women voters make up 53.2 percent of the electorate.

Polling opens at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) and closes 12 hours later, with the first results expected after midnight (2100 GMT) as ballot papers in Kuwait are still counted manually.

OPEC member Kuwait says it sits on 10 percent of global crude reserves and pumps around 3.0 million barrels of oil a day. Thanks to high prices, the emirate has amassed around $400 billion in assets over the past decade.

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