Kuwait's Islamist opposition makes gains, no female MPs after vote

Published Friday, February 3, 2012

Opposition parties that include hard-line Islamists have made significant gains in Kuwait's latest elections, but no female candidates are expected to win seats in the Gulf state's fourth parliamentary elections in six years.

The Islamist-led opposition won a landslide majority in Kuwait's snap polls, securing 34 seats in the 50-member parliament.

Sunni Islamists, including Salafists, took 23 seats compared with just nine in the dissolved parliament, while liberals claimed only two places against five previously, according to the official results.

Female candidates were defeated across the state, with all four previous female MPs losing their seats and no new female candidates elected.

Following the announcement of the results, hundreds of opposition supporters gathered at the campaign tents of candidates they backed to celebrate the outcome.

Sixty-two percent of Kuwaitis cast their ballots, up from 58 percent on the previous election in 2009.

The poll will increase the opposition's power, even though the 15 appointed cabinet ministers, mainly from the ruling al-Sabah family, can vote in the parliament, providing a bloc that often decides crucial votes.

Kuwait's ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, called the vote in December after dissolving the chamber in response to a deepening political deadlock that held up vital projects in the key oil-exporting state.

The anger at the alleged corruption in the ruling elite came to a head in November when protesters led by opposition MPs stormed the assembly demanding the resignation of Sheikh Nasser.

They got their way soon afterwards when the emir dismissed his cabinet – the seventh line-up in six years.

An investigation by the public prosecutor into payments to 13 pro-government parliamentarians gave a further boost to the opposition, ruling that the sums were bribes paid by ministers to MPs for their backing.

Only two of 13 former MPs who the public prosecutor questioned over corruption charges were re-elected, and the rest either lost or did not contest the poll.

Speaking after his victory, new opposition MP Obaid al-Wasmi warned all "corruption files will be opened," including claims that hundreds of millions of public funds were stolen.

"I tell the decision-makers that the Kuwait of tomorrow will not be the same as of the Kuwait of yesterday," said the outspoken independent opposition figure.

"The law will be applied to all, and those who do not want the law to be applied to them should leave Kuwait," the professor of law told cheering supporters.

The elections are the first in the country since a wave of revolutionary movements swept the Middle East, bringing about the fall of four dictators to date.

Kuwait follows Morocco in offering parliamentary elections as a means of preventing further protest.

(AFP, Reuters, Al Akhbar)

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