Kuwait's conservative tribes make election gains

AP News

7/28/2013 6:28:52 AM - AP News

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Kuwait's conservative Sunni tribes made gains in parliamentary elections while liberals reclaimed a foothold in the Gulf region's most politically powerful elected body, according to results Sunday after voting forced by the ongoing political upheavals in the oil-rich nation.

The outcome from Saturday's election still leaves the 50-seat parliament in the hands of lawmakers friendly to Kuwait's pro-Western ruling family.

But the boost for the tribal bloc, which took at least 10 seats, suggest possible alliances with Islamists and other opposition groups angered over crackdowns on dissent that have targeted prominent government critics and online activists.

Kuwait, one of OPEC's top producers, has been battered by political unrest for the past two years. A variety of groups inspired by the Arab Spring have stepped up pressure on the ruling Al Sabah family, led by the 84-year-old emir, over alleged fiscal mismanagement, corruption and efforts to police social media.

Some Islamist-led groups boycotted the election — Kuwait's third in the past 17 months — but reported turnout of more than 52 percent indicated that few others heed their call. In last December's election, liberals and others snubbed the voting and participation was about 40 percent.

Liberal lawmakers seeking greater social and political freedoms gained at least six seats, the results showed. The biggest blow came to Shiite candidates who benefited from last December's boycott, dropping from 17 seats to eight.

Two women, one Shiite and one with the liberal camp, were elected.

The election — a rarity during the holy month of Ramadan and its dawn-to-dusk fasting — was called after a court invalidated the chamber elected in December. The court found technical flaws in the election, but let stand new voting rules ordered by Kuwait's ruler that brought one-vote per person.

The former system allowed four votes per person, which could be spread among various candidates. Critics say it encouraged vote buying and pressures by tribal leaders to keep the votes within their clan.

Kuwait's parliament has by far the strongest powers of any elected body among the Gulf Arab states, allowing lawmakers to directly challenge the government and demand questioning of top government officials.

Other Gulf Arab countries are closely watching the moves by Kuwait's Islamists, considered by the United Arab Emirates and others as part of wider networks ideologically linked to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and seeking to bring down the Gulf's pro-Western fraternity of rulers.

Washington, too, is deeply vested in Kuwait's stability as a critical link in the Pentagon's military array against nearby Iran. Kuwait hosts thousands of U.S. soldiers in the largest deployment of American ground forces in the region.

A caretaker government is expected to be named later Sunday. The new Cabinet will be named in coming weeks by the emir.