Early Kuwait vote count indicates opposition gains

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 02, 2012 6:58 PM
Early Kuwait vote count indicates opposition gains

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Early results of a snap election in Kuwait pointed to gains by opposition candidates in the Gulf state's fourth parliament in six years.

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 has stymied reform and held up vital development projects in the key oil-exporting state.

Sixty-two percent of Kuwaitis cast their ballots on Thursday, up slightly from 58 percent in the previous election in 2009. Initial results were expected Friday morning.

Opposition candidates and ex-MPs who spearheaded a movement to oust Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammed al-Sabah as prime minister have been tipped to expand their influence in parliament, riding a wave of frustration at the impasse and perceived corruption.

"There's obviously more traction now for the opposition groups. You have kind of a momentum," said Shahin Shamsabadi, senior adviser at the Risk Advisory Group.

That anger came to a head in November when protesters led by opposition MPs stormed the assembly demanding the resignation of Sheikh Nasser, whom they accused of graft.

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 notably large deposits in the bank accounts of 13 pro-government parliamentarians gave a further boost to the opposition, which said the sums were bribes paid by ministers to MPs for their backing in the assembly.


But a victory for the opposition is unlikely to end the antagonism, analysts say.

"The opposition win will not resolve ongoing political and social tensions in Kuwait," the Eurasia Group said in a note. It forecast that the opposition would take as many as 30 of the 50 seats up for grabs.

The opposition is not a unified force in Kuwait, where a web of tribal and sectarian loyalties undercut most other affinities. A ban on political parties makes religious and kinship ties the easiest and most effective way of mobilizing support.

Those divisions were brought into focus earlier this week, when tribesmen torched the tent of candidate Mohammed al-Juweihel after he insulted their tribe, skirmishing with police a day later outside the office of a satellite television channel that was hosting his ally.

Candidates belonging to the Mutairi tribe have already threatened to bring a grilling motion against Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah if they are elected unless Juweihel is barred from the parliament.

But while 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.

From early Wednesday, men and women queued outside separate schools to select up to four candidates, bringing an end to a week of campaign rallies and rhetoric.

"The situation cannot remain as it was," opposition candidate Faisel al-Mislem told hundreds of supporters at a campaign event in the run-up to the vote. "If this election is just a game of musical chairs, then it's a waste of time."

(; editing by Mark Heinrich)