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Kuwait Shiites Win Record Parliament Seats Amid Boycott

Shiite Muslims won a record number of seats in Kuwait’s parliament in the second elections in less than a year as opposition groups and their supporters boycotted the vote.

Shiites, who account for about 30 percent of the indigenous population, more than doubled their presence by securing 17 seats in the 50-member National Assembly. Women, including former minister Maasouma Al-Mubarak, won three seats after being defeated at the polls in February, according to final results given today by the National Elections Commission. Sunni Islamists lost ground, winning four seats, as did tribal candidates, with 16. The new house includes 21 former lawmakers.

Voter turnout in yesterday’s elections was 40.3 percent, according to the Information Ministry, compared with about 60 percent for the previous three parliamentary ballots. The government had stepped up calls for Kuwaitis to take part in the vote. The opposition, a mix of Sunni Islamists, liberals and youth groups inspired by the Arab Spring’s uprisings, said turnout was 26.7 percent, according to their Twitter messages.

“This parliament will be very cooperative with the government,” Ayed Al-Manna, a political analyst at Kuwait’s Public Authority for Applied Education, said by phone. “However, it will be opposed by the majority and it will feel isolated from the majority of the population. There will be more demands to dissolve this parliament.”

The new body of lawmakers will be prevented from coexisting with the government, particularly by the country’s major tribes and merchant families, which supported the boycott, Al-Manna said.

‘New Start’

“Kuwait has witnessed a success of democracy as citizens practiced their constitutional rights to choose their representatives for the next parliament,” Information Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah Al-Sabah said in an emailed statement. “The election result is the foundation for a new start of development and cooperation between the legislative and executive powers to advance Kuwait and all its people.”

The opposition has vowed to “use all constitutional tools” to bring down the new parliament.

The nation’s benchmark stock exchange index declined less than 0.1 percent at the close today in Kuwait City.

Gerrymandering Alleged

The opposition and its supporters staged one of the biggest rallies in the Gulf nation’s history on Nov. 30, urging a boycott of the polls amid calls for the government, appointed by the ruling Al-Sabah family, to share more power with elected politicians. The opposition, which swept to victory in the last elections, has objected to changes to the voting system made by the government in October that require voters to choose only one candidate, instead of four previously.

The opposition said the changes to the voting rules were gerrymandering aimed at reducing their chances of winning and had made it easier for candidates to buy votes. The government said they were intended to ensure stability and boost democracy.

About 422,500 Kuwaitis, more than 53 percent of them women, were eligible to vote yesterday. Native Kuwaitis make up a third of the 3.8 million people in the country, OPEC’s third-biggest producer, with the rest mostly foreign workers.

Steps toward democracy in Kuwait have led to repeated clashes between lawmakers and governments chosen by the Al-Sabah family, straining an economy that trails its Gulf peers as projects to diversify from oil have become mired in political disputes. Protests have swelled in the last year as opposition groups demand wider powers for elected officials.

Development Plan

Kuwait’s parliament in 2010 approved a $110 billion development plan, aimed at modernizing and restructuring the economy, which relies on oil for more than 90 percent of its revenue. The investment program includes a subway and rail network, new power stations, hospitals, roads and a port on Boubyan Island.

The country’s private-sector borrowing grew at the slowest pace in at least 17 years in 2011. The Central Bank of Kuwait last month cut the main interest rate by 50 basis points to 2 percent to spur growth.

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