Kuwaitis go to polls amid slowdown

Hopes pinned on election to end standoff between ruling family and parliament.

    Rola Dashti, one of 16 women running this year, kisses her uncle at her campaign centre [AFP]

    Campaigning focused on ways to steer Kuwait through the global economic crisis.

    Declining oil prices, which account to 90 per cent of the government's income, have hit the country's finances badly.

    The new parliament will have several delayed bills to decide on.

    Islamists to dominate

    While some analysts have suggested women may have a better chance of winning this time, the Islamists are expected to dominate the new parliament, which could continue to delay reforms and stall efforts to salvage Kuwait's struggling economy.

    "The irony of the Kuwaiti elections is that women represent more than 50 per cent of the electorate, still women don't trust women to go to the parliament," Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reporting from Kuwait City, said.

    In depth

     Q&A: Political crisis in Kuwait
     Video: Political infighting disrupts Kuwait's markets

    "For women to go to the parliament, they would have to convince female voters to vote for them."

    "The other second major obstacle are the conservatives and the Islamists who are extremely well organised and efficient.

    "They have been waging a campaign against women saying that this is something alien to the basic tenants of Islam and that the presence of women in the parliament would be an extreme violation of Islam," he said.

    Bickering between the cabinet, controlled by the ruling family which is pushing for economic reforms, and politicians elected to the parliament, has brought development to a halt.

    "The stock market value just last August was at 64bn Kuwait dinars [about $200bn]. Now the value of the market is half of that," Adnan Al-Delaimi, a Kuwaiti financial expert, told Al Jazeera.

    "Many factors made the economic situation worse - the decline in oil prices, the global financial turmoil - but it is the ongoing political bickering between the ruling family and the country's parliament that is making things worse."

    A bailout plan was announced to stabilise the stock market but this was abandoned after the emir dissolved the parliament.

    The government has also proposed several reforms, of investment laws among other things, and the upgrading of the petrochemical infrastructure.

    Neighbours ahead

    Neighbouring Gulf states such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Bahrain have transformed themselves into commercial, financial and tourist centres by attracting foreign investors.

    But Kuwait's parliament has vetoed many of the projects, accusing the government of incompetence, corruption and mismanagement of public funds.

    Local businessmen, frustrated with both the political and economic climate, have demanded an immediate recovery plan.

    Al-Delaimi said: "Foreign direct investment inflows have decreased substantially since the crisis began and since this conflict really started.

    "The major reason of course is there is political instability, and since foreign investors see instability even in the best of democracies, they will get worried and they will pull out their investments."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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