Kuwait City: Kuwait’s boycott-hit elections on Sunday registered a 40 per cent turnout, with minorities making significant gains and both the government and the opposition claiming victory.
Minorities and previously under-represented groups made significant gains following a controversial emergency decree issued by the emir that reduced the number of candidates a voter can elect from four to one.
Shiite MPs won a record 17 seats in parliament, up from the maximum of 10 held in the past. While Shiites are known to traditionally perform strongly in the first, second and third districts, they won seats in all five districts, including districts four and five, where seats are traditionally taken by tribal groups. They won eight seats in the First district, three in the Second, two in the Third, one in the Fourth and three in the Fifth.
“This was a real shock, even for the Shiites themselves. It might be a source of concern in the region, especially if Shiite ministers are appointed in the cabinet,” said, Hussain Abdul Rahman, a Kuwaiti analyst and expert on parliamentary politics. In Kuwait’s parliament, 16 government appointed ministers also sit in parliament alongside the 50 elected deputies.
Abdul Rahman said that in an atmosphere of high sectarian tension, however, this may serve as an opportunity for Shiites, as well as the embattled ruling family, to gain credibility in the country by proposing and voting favourably for populist laws, such as one that will cancel the debt of Kuwait’s citizens.
Both the government and the opposition claimed victory following the elections. Waleed Tabtabai, Salafist former MP and a member of the opposition, said on twitter that state television choosing not to broadcast election result live “was proof that the boycott movement was successful”.
Al Qabas, which is close to the government line, ran a large headline about the forty per cent participation rate in the elections, with a sub-heading quoting the emir as saying that the elections “showed Kuwait’s civilized face”.
Election turnout was being watched closely during the elections. The opposition had called for a boycott in an attempt to de-legitimise the parliament by questioning its representativeness. Analysts had predicted less than a 40 per cent turnout in a country where elections have in the past seen a turnout of over 60 per cent.
Sympathetic to the boycott, Al Jareeda newspaper stressed in its headline that the new MPs won with small numbers, declaring that “the boycott has succeeded”. Its sub-heading stated that “some of the winners got less than 2 per cent of the votes”.
“I am concerned about this rhetoric of victory from both sides. This kind of polarization is very harmful for society. We are not at a crossroads in Kuwait,” said Mohammad Al Rumaihi, Kuwaiti intellectual and commentator. “We will find out where we are heading in the next two to three months, based on the government and the parliament’s conduct,” he said.
Al Rumaihi added that there were factions among both the opposition and government sides who were largely neutral and susceptible to being won over by the other side. These, he said, are people who are waiting to see the government’s conduct before changing sides.
Al Rumaihi estimated the proportion of boycotters to stand at approximately 20 per cent “since about 35 to 40 per cent of eligible voters usually don’t vote”.
Abdul Rahman said the 40 per cent turnout was impressive considering that two major tribes, Al Awazem and Al Mutair, had boycotted, but added that parliament could not be considered complete without representation form those two tribes.