Voting ends in Kuwait amidst call for boycott

Counting underway in election for parliament as opposition predicts 70-per cent boycott in strongly divided nation.

Polling place in Kuwait
The opposition is expecting a 70 per cent boycott in the fifth election since 2006 [Jamal el-Shayyal/Al Jazeera]

Polls have closed in Kuwait after a day of voting for a new parliament, the second ballot in ten months, and one that comes amid sharp divisions between the ruling family-led government and an opposition boycotting the polls over a change to the electoral law.

The first results are expected after midnight [2100 GMT], as ballot papers in Kuwait are still counted manually.

Opposition groups, ranging from hardline Islamists to Western-leaning liberals, have bitterly denounced a decree in October by Kuwait’s emir to change the balloting system.

They claim it will make it easier for officials to influence the outcome.

Opposition supporters, numbering in the tens of thousands, took to the streets of Kuwait City on Friday in a peaceful demonstration calling on voters to stay home during the election day.

Prominent opposition figure and former MP Faisal al-Muslim claimed on hisTwitter account that three hours before the polls were due to close, turnoutwas around 17 percent.

Friday’s protests were among several staged against the government for unilaterally amending the electoral law.

In previous elections, voters were able to pick up to a maximum of four candidates; that number was reduced by the amendment to just one. Each of Kuwait’s five constituencies elects 10 legislators.

Analysts see little hope the election, the fifth since mid-2006, will bring political stability to the Gulf state which has seen sharp divisions between the ruling family-led government and the opposition.

Key test

Turnout is seen as the key test for the divisions within the country. The opposition is expecting a 70-per cent boycott while pro-government candidates are hoping that more than 50 per cent of voters will cast their ballots.

The opposition said it will deploy people to monitor the number of voters for fear the government may inflate the numbers.

None of the opposition figures is among 306 hopefuls, including 13 women, contesting 50 seats [Jamal el-Shayyal/Al Jazeera]

“I’m certain that the boycott will have an effect on the turnout,” said Information Minister Mohammad al-Abdullah Al Sabah, a member of the ruling family.

He appealed, however, for the opposition to confine their objections within the country’s “legal framework.”

None of the opposition figures is among the 306 hopefuls, including 13 women, contesting the 50 seats, and so the next parliament is expected to be entirely pro-government.

The electorate is to vote at around 100 polling stations in schools, with separate centres for men and women in line with the law.

Of the 3.8 million population, only 1.2 million are Kuwaiti. Among the Kuwaiti nationals, only 422,000 are eligible to vote.

The voting age is 21 and servicemen in the police and army are banned from taking part in the ballot. Female voters make up 54 per cent of the electorate.

Polling opens at 8:00am (0500 GMT) and closes 12 hours later, with the first results expected after midnight (2100 GMT) as ballot papers in Kuwait are still counted manually.

Source: News Agencies