Kuwaitis voted today in the nation’s second parliamentary elections in less than a year as the opposition movement called for a boycott.
Men and women cast their ballots for a 50-seat National Assembly at segregated polling stations across five districts for 12 hours before stations closed at 8:00 p.m. The state-run KUNA news agency reported that long lines of people still waiting to vote were allowed to do so once doors had closed. About 422,000 people were eligible to vote in a country where about a third of the population of 3.8 million is Kuwaiti.
“It’s possible that we’ll have one of the lowest voters’ turnout in record and the turnover will be the largest number of freshmen MPs,” Abdullah Al-Shayji, chairman of the political science department at Kuwait University, said on his Twitter account after polls closed.
Kuwait’s opposition yesterday staged one of the biggest rallies in the Gulf nation’s history, urging a boycott of the polls amid calls for political reform and more power sharing with elected politicians. The opposition, which won a majority in February’s elections, has opposed government changes to the voting system, which requires voters to choose only one candidate, instead of four previously.
“I’m voting for new faces,” said Abdul Al Bu Abbas, a 50-year-old oil industry employee, after voting in Salwa, south of Kuwait City. “It’s my right. I’m looking forward to a new system.”
The economy of Kuwait, OPEC’s third-biggest producer which relies on oil for more than 90 percent of its revenue, has trailed Gulf peers as political disputes have brought repeated dissolutions of parliament and Cabinet resignations, and held up a $110 billion development plan.
“I don’t totally support the government, but we need the constitutional process to continue,” Zainab Abbas said after casting her ballot in Rumaithiyah, south of the capital. “The change can be made using constitutional tools. We don’t want chaos, we want stability.” The 28-year-old civil servant voted for a female candidate and supports the new voting system.
The opposition said changes to the voting rules were gerrymandering aimed at reducing their chances of winning and making it easier for candidates to buy votes. The government said they were intended to ensure stability and boost democracy.
Islamists, pro-democracy activists and youths inspired by the Arab Spring are among the groups who have been mobilizing street protests since 2011. The opposition has vowed to “use all constitutional tools” to bring down the new parliament.
“Be positive and take part in the electoral process to choose the best, most effective, honest and responsible to represent you in the coming National Assembly,” Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah said last month. Fighting corruption and reforming state bodies can’t be addressed through protests, “but through cooperation, unity, hard work and constructive dialogue,” he said.
Daham Mahmoud Al-Reshaidi said he was voting today because he couldn’t defy the wishes of the emir. “I hate loud voices and chaos,” said the 65-year-old as he approached a polling station. “Whoever wants to boycott, that’s their personal opinion. I’m hoping this parliament will last longer, bring more reform and meet the hopes of the people and the emir.”