Kuwaitis head to the polls as opposition ends boycott | News | DW | 26.11.2016
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Kuwaitis head to the polls as opposition ends boycott

Kuwaitis vote on Saturday to elect the representatives of the country's parliament. The tiny Gulf nation is struggling to cope with political conflicts, a slump in oil prices and security challenges posed by Islamists.

Kuwait's long-time ruler Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah called for snap elections in October with the government saying that "delicate regional circumstances and … security challenges" required a fresh popular vote.

Most opposition parties, including Islamists and liberals, took part in Saturday's elections. They had boycotted the last two votes in protest against electoral system reforms aimed at keeping the opposition out of power. The court had overturned the February 2012 vote, which was won by the opposition.

The ruling al Sabah family holds all top cabinet posts, but the 50-member Kuwaiti parliament is still one of the most sovereign legislatures in the Gulf region. It has the power to question the ministers, including those from the ruling family.

But the government's crackdown on dissidents has undermined the election's credibility. The rulers have jailed prominent opposition leaders, muzzled critical press and made changes to the electoral law in the past few months. Musallam al Barrack, one of the most influential opposition leaders, has been sentenced to two years in prison for criticizing the emir, al Sabah.

"There is nothing that drives me to cast my vote," Naseer al Dawood, a 26-year-old marketer, told The Associated Press. "We boycotted the previous elections for a number of reasons. Those reasons are still valid … our participation will only give legitimacy to this cat-and-mouse game between cabinet and parliament."

Scheich Sabah Al-Ahmed (Getty Images/M. Wilson)

Western-allied Kuwaiti ruler al Sabah called for snap elections in October

Uncertainties and challenges

The election comes amid difficult times for this Western-allied Gulf nation. Oil income, which accounts for 95 percent of government revenues, has plummeted by 60 percent over the past two years. For more than 15 years, Kuwait had enjoyed budget surpluses until the oil prices collapsed in 2014.

In an attempt to boost the economy, the government has pushed through unpopular austerity measures, including removing subsidies on electricity, water and fuel.

The security situation in normally peaceful Kuwait has also deteriorated since last year. Kuwait, a Shiite-majority country with Sunni rulers, is experiencing turbulence due to the volatile situation in its northern neighbor, Iraq, where the government is battling against the militant "Islamic State" (IS) group.

In June 2015, a suicide bomber belonging to IS, targeted a Shiite mosque in Kuwait City, killing 27 people. In October of this year, an Egyptian IS supporter attacked US soldiers, wounding only himself.

Schisms in the ruling family and concerns over the 87-year-old emir's health have also raised questions about the Gulf state's future.

Kuwait Moschee Selbstmordattentat (picture-alliance/dpa/R. Qutena)

In June 2015, an IS suicide bomber killed 27 people in a Kuwait City mosque

shs/sms  (AP, AFP, dpa)