Polling ends in Kuwait elections

Elections called by the emir after failure by parliament and cabinet to get along.

    Some Kuwaitis have been pushing the government to pay off citizens' debt [AFP]

    Many candidates are pushing the government to use the influx of cash to pay off the consumer debt of Kuwaiti citizens.
    However, the cabinet had pushed to use the money for development projects and to privatise the economy.
    This has proved to be unpopular in a country where the one million citizens have become accustomed to a cradle-to-grave welfare system.

    Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed Al Sabah, Kuwait's ruler, called early elections after he disbanded the 50-seat parliament in March.

    Interference problem

    All of the cabinet members, who are chosen by the prime minister, had resigned, saying they could no longer work with parliament members who "interfered" with their work and were constantly trying to impeach them.

    The prime minister is appointed by the emir.

    Parliament often threatens to grill cabinet members.

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    Women push for change

    Grillings are usually followed by votes of no confidence, which are considered a challenge to the authority of the Al Sabah family.

    The royal family tries to thwart them through cabinet reshuffles and parliament dissolutions.

    Some legislators are pushing the royal family to reform the system so that the majority in parliament is able to choose the cabinet.

    In many parliamentary systems, the majority party in parliament names the prime minister, who in turn picks the cabinet.

    The Kuwaiti royal family has resisted the change, and there are no officially recognised political parties in Kuwait.

    Tug of war

    The last parliament election in 2006 also occurred after Sheikh Sabah dissolved the parliament.

    At that time, the legislators were pushing to reduce the number of election districts from 25 to five to make it difficult for candidates to buy votes.

    The cabinet wanted to limit the reduction to 10 districts, but relented after Kuwaitis took to the streets to protest.

    The elections on Saturday were the first in the country under the new rules.

    Each of the five districts sends 10 representatives to parliament, and each person can vote for four candidates in a district.

    Vote buying

    Reformists believe larger voting districts will make it harder for candidates to buy votes because they would have to pay a much larger number of people to get the necessary amount of votes.

    Kuwaiti authorities have clamped down on election bribery by arresting candidates and campaign workers whose names have not been made public.

    What to do with surging oil revenues has
    been a contentious election issue [AP]

    Reformists also hope the larger districts will reduce the number of candidates who are elected by a small number of voters exclusively from their tribe or sect, a common occurrence under the old system.

    The candidate pool includes 27 women, who first gained the right to vote and run for public office in 2005, but failed to win any parliament seats in the last election.

    They hope better preparation and greater tolerance for female candidates will improve their chances this time around.

    There are only about 362,000 voters in the tiny Gulf nation, 55 per cent of whom are women. Kuwait first elected a parliament in 1963.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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