Kuwait’s opposition won a majority in the country’s new parliament in elections that saw gains for Islamists and a defeat for liberals and women.
Opposition supporters won at least 32 seats, up from about 20 in the previous National Assembly, according to official results released today. Women, who in May 2009 won their first four seats in the 50-member assembly, lost all four of them. Islamist politicians from Kuwait’s Sunni Muslim community took more than 20 seats, and four of the seven successful Shiite candidates were Islamists.
“It’s beyond all expectations, we have extremism on all fronts and it’s going to be very explosive,” said Abdullah Al-Shayji, chairman of the political science department at Kuwait University. Islamists “will run the show, they will control the tempo. The government will have a hard time dealing with this.”
Repeated clashes between lawmakers and the government over how to share power have led to a series of parliament dissolutions and Cabinet resignations in OPEC’s fourth-biggest oil producer, slowing economic growth and delaying key investment projects.
Yesterday’s election, the fourth in less than six years, followed months of unprecedented anti-government demonstrations sparked by corruption allegations against Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, who quit as prime minister in November. That prompted Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, his uncle, to dissolve parliament and call elections.
“We tell the government and its supporters that we will open all corruption files,” Obaid al-Wasmi, a newly elected lawmaker and law professor at Kuwait University, said on Twitter. “The Kuwait of today won’t be the same as the Kuwait of yesterday.”
The turnout, which hasn’t been officially announced, was probably the largest in Kuwait’s history, al-Shayji said. About 400,000 people were entitled to vote in a country where a third of the population of 3.6 million is Kuwaiti.
The opposition has vowed to use its strength in the assembly to press for measures that would legalize political parties and let the elected assembly choose a government. Currently, Kuwait’s emir appoints the premier, and parliament has more powers to block legislation than initiate it.
The opposition movement includes Islamists, liberals and independents, as well as youth groups who cite inspiration from the Arab protests that swept away longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Some groups demand a constitutional monarchy and elected government. Others say their focus is fighting corruption and are calling for political reform without amending the constitution.
The Kuwaiti movement represents “the soft side of the Arab Spring,” al-Shayji said. Women candidates “paid the price for their lackluster performance and towing the government line,” while liberals were “hammered,” he said.
Opposition candidates have accused the government of delays in implementation of Kuwait’s $111 billion investment plan, which includes expanding oil and gas production and building transport networks, cities, universities, hospitals, a new port and airport, and power stations.