Interior Minister Sheikh Ahmad Al-Sabah touring polling areas in the First Constituency.
New faces for opposition reset Endemic disputes dull voter optimism

KUWAIT CITY, Feb 2: Musallam Al-Barrak led an opposition surge for Assembly seats in a snap poll that saw women candidates lose ground.

Over 200,000 Kuwaitis voted Thursday to deliver their verdict in a contentious election marred by sectarian divisiveness and tribal rift. The outcome appears to bode ill for upcoming parliamentary term.
 

  • Leading in the First Constituency as of 5:00 am were: Faisal Saud Al-Duwaisan - 13,540
  • Mohammed Hassan Al-Kandari - 11,013
  • Hussein Ali Al-Qallaf - 10,743
  • Osama Eissa Al-Shaheen - 10,661
  • Saleh Al-Ashour - 9,246
  • Abdul Hamid Abbas Dashti - 9,237
  • Ahmed Lari - 8,740
  • Adel Jassem Al-Dhamki - 7,905
  • Adnan Abdul Samad - 7,425
  • Maasouma Al-Mubarak - 7,378
  • Leading in the Second Constituency were: Jamaan Al-Harbash - 9,332
  • Ali Fahd Al-Rashed - 7,382
  • Riyadh Ahmed Al-Adasani - 7,293
  • Mohammed Jassem Al-Saqr - 7,014
  • Hamad Mohammed Al-Matar - 6,731
  • Marzouk Ali Al-Ghanim - 6,446
  • Adnan Al-Mutawa - 6,008
  • Abdul Rahman Al-Anjari - 5,956
  • AbdulLatif Abdul Wahab Al-Omair - 5,697
  • Khaled Sultan Bin Essa - 5,580
  • Leading in the Third Constituency were: Faisal Al-Muslim - 11,511
  • Faisal Saleh Al-Yahya - 11,158
  • Waleed Al-Tabtabaei - 10,515
  • Mohammed Hussein Al-Dalal - 10,244
  • Ali Saleh Al-Omair - 9,579
  • Ahmed Al-Saadoun - 9,191
  • Shaye Abdul Rahman Al-Shaye - 8,371
  • Nabil Nouri Al-Fadl - 8,101
  • Mohammed Salem Al-Juwaihal - 7,869
  • Amar Mohammed Al-Ajmi - 7,161
  • Leading in the Fourth Consituency were: Musallam Mohammed Al-Barrak - 31,020
  • Mohammed Hayef Al-Mutairi - 26,588
  • Obaid Mohammed Al-Mutairi - 22,897
  • Mubarak Al-Waalan - 16,410
  • Ali Salem Al-Deqbasi - 15,330
  • Shuaib Shabab Al-Muwaizri - 11,109
  • Mohammed Khalifa Al-Khalfan - 10,904
  • Osama Al-Monawer - 10,691
  • Saad Ali Al-Khanfour - 8,524
  • Mohammed Sulaiman Al-Hathlani - 7,518
  • Leading in the Fifth Constituency were: Falah Mutlaq Al-Sawagh - 25,496
  • Khalid Naishan Al-Tahous - 21,463
  • Bader Zaid Al-Azmi - 14,973
  • Ahmed Abdullah Al-Azmi - 14,686
  • Saifi Mubarak Al-Saifi - 13,888
  • Naif Abdul-Aziz Al-Azmi - 12,953
  • Abdullah Hashri Al-Bargash - 12,543
  • Salim Namlan Al-Azmi - 12,120
  • Khalid Shukhair Al-Mutairi - 11,944
  • Manawer Zayab Al-Azmi - 11,329

Turn-out
More than half of Kuwait’s eligible voters cast their ballots Thursday, electing their legislative representatives for the National Assembly’s 14th legislative term. Around 60 percent of the 400,296 electorates flocked to polling stations at the five constituencies, with the Third Constituency having the highest turnout and the Fifth the lowest.

Ten members from each constituency were elected as voters vote for a maximum of four candidates within their respective constituency. The total number of candidates who have contested is 286, including 23 women, after 108 withdrew or were disqualified from elections since nomination was invited on Dec 21.
The polling scene early Thursday witnessed a minimum number of voters in all constituencies, although women polling stations were more active than the men.  Later in the day, however, the amount of voters increased around throughout the districts. Candidates were also at the polls casting their votes.
According to KUNA, up to 106,735 voters (26 percent) of 400,296 cast their ballots at the polling stations in the country’s five constituencies by 2:00 pm in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, an hour before polling stations closed their doors at 8:00 pm, 238,308 votes were in. Turnout at the First Constituency was 61 percent, Second Constituency at 59 percent, Third Constituency at 76 percent, Fourth Constituency at 61 percent, Fifth Constituency at 49 percent.  

The Arab Times spoke with a number of women voters in the First and Second Constituencies and they expressed hope that this democratic process will result in a fruitful outcome. The turn-out at most polling stations was a mixture of young and senior candidates. Young women were witnessed standing outside the women polling stations wearing banners in support of their chosen candidates.

Low-turnout
Nosayba Al-Khatrash, who is a young adult working for Public Institute for Social Security, arrived at Shuwaikh’s polling station with her younger sister around 10 am where she witnessed a low-turnout. Speaking on her voting direction, she said she has chosen newcomers to the legislative scene as well as candidates who’ve worked in previous assemblies. “My family does not necessarily vote for the same people and we chosen a mix of representatives from various backgrounds.” she said.   
Due to the recent explosive event the week of elections, state ministers and radio and TV stations were urging citizens not to feel dissuaded from taking a chance and casting their vote, despite the sunny weather. According to observers and organizers, the holiday period of this month have probably further played a part in decreasing the number of voters.  

In the First Constituency, Iqbal Al-Ali arrived at a Mishref polling stationed in the afternoon and praised the elections organization and said she was in and out in no time at all. “I had to go and cast my vote, I don’t like negativity,” she said, adding that the elections organization was much more efficient than previous years.

Al-Ali also said she and her husband have voted for a mix of candidates, Islamist, Liberal and conservative to ensure a broad representation in the next assembly. “We’ve voted for two newcomers and two who’ve previously worked in the assembly, people we feel will be able to accomplish what is needed,” she added optimistically.

Al-Ali further explained that Kuwaiti families don’t usually vote in the same direction and their large number creates a mixture of perspectives.

On the other hand, Fatima of the Fourth Constituency, who abstained from giving her last name, said that she is voting for Islamist and conservative candidates. She believes “tribal candidates will be able to stand against corrupt practices in the government and implement reforms.” As a first time voter, Fatima added that her family including extended decides together the four candidates to vote four.

First time Third Constituency voter Abdulaziz Al-Askari, 22 years, expressed his pride of the democratic exercise to decide on Kuwait’s future. “I believe it is only us voters who can decide Kuwait’s future by electing the right candidates who are able to put Kuwait’s interests about their personal ones,” he said.
Al-Askari added that he wants the next parliament to turn a new page, set a new plan and focus on developing and uplifting the country. He revealed he chose liberal candidate Nabil Al-Fadl as one of his representatives “because he always thinks about the future of Kuwait and his program is useful and clean.”
Al-Askari described Al-Fadl as “a strong man that can take on the opposition judiciously without the need to fight,” considering that the candidate is right-wing and pro-government known for being an opposition bloc critic.

“I believe it would be better for the executive and legislative authorities to cooperate in the country’s interest. Kuwait was a top country in the 1970s and is now lagging behind other GCC countries in terms of development,” he concluded.

The vote, which followed an especially tense campaign marred by violence, seeks to end political disputes that have damaged the country for years.

Female voters make up 54 percent of the electorate, and 23 women are among 286 candidates standing for the 50-seat legislative body.

Early voter traffic was low but picked up rapidly later, especially in tribal constituencies where men stood in long queues.

The state-run KUNA news agency said turnout was about 60 percent one hour before the close, already higher than the 58 percent recorded in 2009 election.

In Sabah Al-Salem, a tribal area 20 kms (13 miles) south of Kuwait City, male voters showed up in large numbers with less than an hour to close of polling.

The voters sounded optimistic.

“I think the opposition is going to win in an impressive way and this will lead to stability and embarking on the delayed development plan,” Mohammad Al-Oteibi, a headmaster, told AFP.
“This time I did not vote for the tribe’s candidates. I picked candidates I think will serve Kuwait better,” 27-year-old government employee Khaled Al-Azemi said.

Pollsters and analysts expect the 400,000-strong electorate to deliver a resounding victory for the Islamist-led opposition which has campaigned vigorously for fundamental reforms and against corruption.
“We are very optimistic that the opposition will achieve a majority in the next parliament,” former Islamist MP Waleed Al-Tabtabai told AFP.

“I am hopeful that disputes will diminish because the opposition will strengthen its presence.”

The snap poll was called after Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah dissolved parliament in OPEC’s third largest producer following unprecedented protests led by youths inspired by the Arab Spring.
The protests led to the resignation of the previous government and former prime minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah who was replaced by another senior royal.

Some voters expressed concern that the election, which came after one of the most aggressive campaigns since Kuwait introduced democracy in 1962, would not help restore stability.

“The atmosphere is unhealthy and highly charged... because sectarian and tribal tensions are negatively impacting our country,” former oil minister Adel Al-Sabeeh told AFP.

“The opposition is likely to boost its strength but I think we are headed for more disputes.”

Others expressed similar worries.
“We are very frustrated and worried about what is happening in Kuwait,” said one woman, Umm Saud, after voting in Jabriya, 15 kilometres (nine miles) south of Kuwait City.

“I am not optimistic this election will resolve our problems, but I pray that I am wrong.”
Fatima Akbar, a former schoolteacher, said she is “hopeful with caution” the election will help stabilise the country.

“We are worried about the conflicts in Kuwait, especially sectarian tension” between the Sunni majority and Shiite minority, she said.

Tensions between Sunnis and Shiites — who make up 30 percent of Kuwaitis — have intensified in recent months, mainly over regional issues such as Bahrain, Iran and Syria.
Shiite candidates lamented last year’s crackdown on their co-religionists in Bahrain, while Sunni candidates warned of Shiite Iran’s regional ambitions.

On Monday, tribesmen burned the election tent of a pro-government candidate after remarks deemed derogatory to a Bedouin tribe. They also stormed offices of a TV station for hosting a pro-government candidate.

About 30 international and 300 local observers have been allowed to monitor the election for the first time.
Kuwait had a population of 3.6 million as of mid-2011, but 68 percent of those are foreigners with Kuwaitis themselves numbering 1.17 million.

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, it has amassed more than $300 billion (227,400 billion euros) in assets over the past decade.

Other candidates have been coaxing voters into their tents with lavish buffets and pledges ranging from lifting a ban on the sale of alcohol to bringing laws into line with Islam.

Youth groups armed with smart phones and access to social networks have been organising their own campaigns.

“We need to move on and I think people are seeing that and are moving towards that,” said blogger Jassim Al-Qamis, member of a team organising liberal ex-MP Aseel Al-Awadhi’s campaign.

Opposition players accuse the government of misdeeds and corruption ranging from bribery, turning a blind eye to diesel smuggling and fomenting divisions within parliament.

Politicians say their battle will continue and few expect this election to end the antagonism.
“These elections have shown the government’s true cards. It continues to play the same tawdry game,” said opposition ex-MP Jamaan Al-Hirbish.

Although parliament has the power to initiate legislation, cabinet members also vote, giving the government a bloc it can use to dilute opposition or swing a majority in the assembly.

And crucially, reforms depend on the will of the Al-Sabah family, which has ruled Kuwait since the 18th century.

“Meaningful constitutional reform is unlikely under the leadership of the current Amir,” said Jamie Ingram, an analyst at RUSI based in Qatar. “However, after power transitions to a new generation, more deep-seated change is likely.”

 


By: Nihal Sharaf and Abubakar A. Ibrahim

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