Kuwaitis voted amid calls for reforms

Polling stations have closed in Kuwait and counting began in the country's legislative elections held for the first time since the Iraqi government was ousted by US troops in April.

    Only men can vote

    Official results are expected to be announced early Sunday.


    Analysts predict a change of up to 60%, above the usual 50%, following weeks of campaigning by 246 candidates who were vying for 50 seats in the National Assembly.


    But Saturday's legislative elections were held amid criticism over barring women from voting and from running as candidates. 

    "Eighty-five percent of Kuwaitis are deprived of practising democracy", al-Qabas newspaper wrote.


    Only 136,715 men out of the population of 885,000 were eligible to cast their ballots for the 10th all-male legislative council since 1963.


    They are indigenous Kuwaitis over 21 as well as naturalised citizens who have held the Kuwaiti citizenship for at least 20 years.


    In a sign of protest, women held mock elections throughout the day at the Kuwait Journalists' Association.


    "I feel great," Hana Razzuqi told AFP after voting in a makeshift booth. "This is the first time I've been through the process of elections, or as it's supposed to be.”


    "In a way, it is a protest vote, maybe ours will be a shadow parliament," she said. "I don't expect marvellous results out of this but it's the first real initiative. It's well known that rights are acquired, not given."


    Islamist participation


    Although political parties are banned in Kuwait, at least six Islamist and liberal groupings, represented in the outgoing parliament are hoping to retain their seats.


    The main groupings are the Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM), the Salafi Movement, the National Democratic Movement (NDM), the Kuwait Democratic Forum (KDF) and the Shia National Islamic Alliance (NIA).


    There are 45 Sunni Islamist candidates.


    ICM is sponsoring 16 of them, the Salafi Movement is backing 10 and there are six candidates from an offshoot to the movement.


    There are 13 independent Islamist candidates, 13 liberals and 50 Shia, including 15 Shia Islamists.


    “We will accept whatever Kuwaitis choose”, first deputy premier and foreign minister Shaikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah said in comments published on Saturday’s al-Rai al-Aam newspaper.


    Shaikh Sabah said he hoped any elected parliament would direct its energy to serve development and construction in co-operation with the government.


    He said that both were "in one boat".


    There have always been tensions between the government, which is appointed by the emir, and the parliament. The emir dissolved theparliament twice in the past.  The executive power has accused the legislative council of lack of co-operation.

    SOURCE: Unspecified


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