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Kuwait heads to the polls
50 Assembly seats • 200 candidates • 835,000 eligible voters • 123 polling centers

KUWAIT: Kuwaiti voters head to the polls on Thursday to elect the fourth parliament in just under 40 months, seeking political stability that has remained elusive for two decades as bitter bickering and disputes took the front seat ahead of much-needed development to utilize abundant oil windfalls. Two hundred candidates, including 13 women, are in the fray for the 50 seats, up seven on the previous June 6, 2023 polls but way below the 320 hopefuls who contested the Sept 2022 elections.

The snap polls were called after HH the Amir Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah dissolved the parliament on Feb 15, less than two months after ascending to power, when some MPs made remarks deemed offensive to HH the Amir. Forty-six out of the 50 members of the dissolved Assembly, in addition to 20 former MPs from previous assemblies, are seeking re-election. A number of fresh candidates have also figured prominently during the campaign.

Thursday’s polls are the second in 10 months and the eighth since early 2012, reflecting a high state of instability due to disputes between MPs and the government. Since parliamentary democracy was introduced to Kuwait in 1962, the National Assembly was suspended twice in 1976 and 1986 for a total of 11 years, dissolved by the Amir on nine occasions and annulled by the constitutional court three times, barely leaving any time for stability and achievement.

Political turmoil intensified since 2006 when four prime ministers resigned and more than 20 Cabinets were formed. During the same period, no National Assembly completed its four-year term, except the 2016-2020 house, with some of them remaining for as little as six months. The last Assembly lasted for just over eight months.

The country went into election silence on Wednesday, with no candidate allowed to issue any election-related statement, but most of the candidates invited the public to nightly Ramadan meals later in the day. Voting is due to start at midday on Thursday and continue until midnight, when ballots close. Counting of votes begins immediately after that and the first results are expected in the early hours on Friday. The government has declared the election day a public holiday to allow more voters to turn out. Banks are also closing doors to allow their employees to participate.

Voters

Kuwait, with a total native population of 1.5 million, has 835,000 eligible voters, of whom 429,000 or 51.4 percent are women and 406,000 are men. Voting age is at 21 and servicemen in the military and the police force are barred from voting or contesting the polls.

The country is divided into five electoral districts, with each electing 10 MPs to the Assembly, but the number of voters varies wildly between constituencies, as there are only 95,000 voters in the second constituency compared to 271,000 voters in the fifth district.

The election department of the interior ministry has allocated 123 polling centers with over 700 booths to cast ballots. There are separate centers for males and females in accordance with Kuwaiti law. HH the Amir spearheaded calls for voters to turn out in large numbers to elect their representatives. HH the Amir also called on voters to vote for candidates who would serve the country and not their own selfish interests.

Campaigns

Election campaigns were held at night because of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, but the duration was short and the intensity was lacking. But issues like Kuwaiti citizenship, national economy and fighting corruption dominated the election rallies. Experts have repeatedly said that most political crises in Kuwait take place because of the unique type of Kuwaiti democracy, mainly because Cabinet members are appointed from outside parliament and become members of parliament, enjoying powers like elected members.

During the campaign, the interior ministry revoked the citizenship of over 50 Kuwaitis on the grounds that they were obtained through illegal means and forgery. The government has repeatedly rejected moves to subject the issue of citizenship to the jurisdiction of court, saying citizenship is a sovereign issue and must be handled by the government. Political parties are barred in Kuwait but political groupings are used to effectively participate in the elections. This time, their participation has been very low.

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