Kuwaitis vote on Saturday to elect the seventh parliament in a decade in the oil-rich Gulf emirate, at a time of sharp disputes over subsidy cuts due to falling oil revenues. The snap polls see the return of opposition groups after a four-year boycott in protest at the government’s amendment of the electoral law. The emir dissolved the last parliament after MPs called for ministers to be grilled over subsidy cuts, in a state with a traditionally generous cradle-to-grave welfare system.
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Around 30 opposition figures, out of 300 candidates, including 14 women, are running for the 50-seat parliament. Half of the opposition candidates are Islamists. Opposition candidates called at their election rallies for wide democratic reforms, promising to fight for economic and social justice and to end rife corruption. The government’s austerity measures, mainly hiking petrol prices, were the top issue at election rallies.
“The government will most likely accede to some of the demands of the opposition,” but stand firm on others, Stratfor, a leading intelligence platform, said in a report.
“The country has the financial luxury of taking a long-term view on reform. Even if it continues to draw down its sovereign wealth fund by USD 30 billion a year for 10 years, it would still have roughly half the fund left,” Stratfor said.
Analysts see little hope the election will bring political stability to the Gulf state, which has been rocked by lingering disputes since mid-2006, apart from a period of relative calm after 2013.
Although Kuwait is seen as a pioneer in operating a parliamentary system in the Gulf, political parties are banned and its political set-up falls far short of Western-style democracy.
Regardless of the outcome of the polls, a prominent member of the Al-Sabah ruling family, in power for the past 250 years, will lead the next government.
Members of the family also always occupy the key posts of foreign, interior and defence ministers. Voting will take place at 100 polling stations set up in schools, with separate centres for men and women.
Kuwait has a population of 4.4 million, but 70 per cent of those are foreigners and only 483,000 people are eligible to vote from among Kuwaitis who number 1.23 million.
Polling opens at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) and closes 12 hours later, with first results expected after midnight (2100 GMT) as ballot papers in Kuwait are still counted manually.
OPEC member Kuwait sits on about seven per cent of global crude reserves and pumps around 3.0 million barrels of oil a day. It has amassed around USD 600 billion in reserves from when oil prices were high.