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Kuwait appeals to voters amid boycott calls

Media starts broadcasting advertisements urging Kuwaitis to cast their votes

Gulf News

Kuwait City: The Kuwaiti government has launched a media campaign to convince voters to cast their ballot in the December 1 poll in a bid to counter opposition calls for a boycott over a disputed law.

The campaign comes as the opposition, comprising Islamists, nationalists and liberals, steps up a campaign of its own to convince voters to shun the election in protest at an amendment of the electoral law.

Kuwaiti Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah on Wednesday urged the public to be “positive” and cast their votes to elect the best candidates.

“Why remain negative and instigate people to boycott the election?” asked the ruler in a speech to a number of academics.

“Be positive and take part in the election process,” to elect competent representatives, said the emir who called for “chaos and violence” to be avoided.

State-run television and radio stations started broadcasting advertisements urging Kuwaitis to cast their votes, explaining the negative consequences of the boycott on the future of the country.

The emir says the amendment is within his constitutional rights and necessary to safeguard national unity and security of the state.

The opposition, however, claims it breaches the constitution and allows the government to influence the outcome of the results and elect a rubber stamp parliament.

Under the previous law, Kuwaitis were able to vote for four of 10 MPs elected in each of the five constituencies, but that has now been reduced to only one.

Opponents of the change claim that the reduction will encourage vote-buying and other corrupt practices since the number of votes needed to win a seat will be much lower than in previous polls.

They have been holding daily gatherings to explain the reasons for their boycott call and has mobilised the so-called Popular Committee for Boycotting Election.

“We visit homes and urge people to boycott and ask them to convince others ... We have had excellent response so far,” Abdullah Al Shallahi, a coordinator for the opposition committee’s branch in the fourth constituency, said.

“We are expecting between 60 per cent to 70 per cent of voters to boycott and are working to increase the percentage,” said Al Shallahi.

The reason for boycotting “the election is to challenge the regime’s plan to monopolise the decision-making process,” Faisal Al Yahya, a member of the scrapped 2012 parliament, told a gathering on Wednesday night.

Boycotting the election is “necessary in order not to provide legitimacy for the next parliament,” he said.

The opposition plans to stage a large demonstration on the eve of the election and has sought permission from the authorities.

Candidates, however, have criticised the opposition campaign.

“What they are doing is a criminal act punishable under the law,” Nabeel Al Fadhl told his supporters on Wednesday night.

Campaigning has remained low key, with only small crowds, less than 100 in some cases, showing up at the election tents set up by some of the 300 hopefuls fighting for seats in the 50-member parliament.

The election is the second this year and the fifth since mid-2006 as the state is rocked by ongoing political crises between parliament and the government led by the ruling Al Sabah family.