Kuwaitis punish Islamists, vote for women

18th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

Frustrated at political turmoil that has rocked the wealthy OPEC member over the past three years, Kuwaitis voted 21 new faces into the 50-member parliament, reducing Sunni Muslim groups to a minority.

Kuwait City -- Kuwaitis voted for change in the Gulf emirate's second poll in a year, giving women their first seats in parliament and punishing Sunni Islamic groups, according to results released on Sunday.

Frustrated at political turmoil that has rocked the wealthy OPEC member over the past three years, Kuwaitis voted 21 new faces into the 50-member parliament, reducing Sunni Muslim groups to a minority.

There was no immediate official figure on Saturday's election turnout, but the state-run KUNA news agency estimated it at 58 percent, down from last year's 65 percent.

Four women candidates made history by winning the first female seats in the Kuwaiti parliament, with one of them coming on top of the 10 winners from her district.

Liberals Massuma al-Mubarak, Aseel al-Awadhi and Rula Dashti, besides independent Salwa al-Jassar won seats in the new house. The four women are all US-educated and hold doctorate degrees in political science, economics and education.

Sixteen women were among 210 candidates who stood in the election, the third since 2006.

"This is the will of change of the Kuwaiti people," MP Mubarak told AFP. "We hope the results will lead to political stability and help achieve the desired cooperation between parliament and government."

The two mainstream Sunni groups, the Islamic Salafi Alliance and the Islamic Constitutional Movement, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, were dealt a heavy blow, winning just three seats versus seven they held in the previous parliament.

Their tribal Islamist supporters were also reduced from 14 to just eight seats.

And instead of winning first positions like they did last year, several of them came in last place.

Liberals and their allies improved their tally by one seat to eight.

The Shiite Muslim minority emerged big winners, almost doubling their strength from five seats to as many as nine. Five of them are Islamist Shiites.

The nationalist Popular Action Bloc led by veteran opposition figure Ahmad al-Saadun took three seats, down one.

Major tribes, which account for half of the population, won 25 seats, a few of them pro-Islamists.

In the light of the results, political analyst Nasser al-Abdali believes the composition of the next government will be decisive in shaping relations with the new parliament.

Under law, a new cabinet must be named before elected MPs hold their first formal session after two weeks.

"If the composition of the new government does not change fundamentally, crises will return in a big way," said Abdali, head of the Kuwait Society for Development of Democracy.

He said that almost all members in the outgoing parliament whom the government blamed for causing crises have been re-elected which "sets the stage for more confrontations."

Three out of five Islamist lawmakers who filed three requests to question the prime minister, the moves which triggered the dissolution of parliament, have retained their seats, while one lost and the fifth did not stand.

Moreover, two candidates who were detained for criticising the ruling family and threatening to resist the security forces, have also been elected.

The early elections were called after Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahamd al-Sabah dissolved parliament in March for the second time in a year amid a standoff between MPs and the government.

The emir's move followed a series of disputes between the elected MPs and the unelected cabinet chosen by the Al-Sabah family that has ruled the oil-rich nation since 1756.

The new parliament faces an immediate hurdle in that it will be asked to give retrospective approval to a multi-billion-dollar economic stimulus package already implemented by the government.

Many newly elected MPs have vowed during their campaigns to oppose the bill, which outspoken opposition MP Mussallam al-Barrak described as a bailout for "investment whales.".

Kuwait says it sits on 10 percent of global oil reserves and pumps around 2.2 million barrels per day. It has a native population of 1.1 million and some 2.35 million foreign residents.


0 Comments To This Article