Kuwaiti voters hope elections will break political deadlock

Turnout was slow earlier in the day as long queues developed at polling stations in sweltering heat

More than 793,000 eligible voters will have the chance to determine the composition of Kuwait's 50-seat legislature. AFP
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Voters in Kuwait cast their ballots on Tuesday for a third time in as many years, with the hope of ending prolonged deadlock between the appointed government and elected parliament after the judiciary dissolved the legislature earlier this year.

Polling stations closed at 8pm local time with the turnout percentage and election results expected to be announced as the night progresses.

Voting during the day was slow as many had to contend with queuing at polling stations in schools. The temperature in much of Kuwait had exceeded 40°C by midday.

“We’ve had a slow day of voters by 4pm and our precinct saw an average of less than 20 per cent of registered voters cast their ballots by the afternoon,” a polling station staff member in Kuwait City’s second constituency told The National.

“This is normal as this snap election is being held in June at the start of very hot summer weather, so we’re expecting a rush of voters after the maghrib prayers and shortly before polls close at 8pm."

Voters queue at a polling station in Kuwait City on Tuesday. AFP

A total of 207 candidates including 13 women were running in Tuesday's vote, the lowest number in a legislative election since 1996.

More than 793,000 voters were registered for this election cycle.

Voters will choose 50 of the 65 seats in parliament. The emir appoints up to 16 cabinet members, 15 of whom have seats in the National Assembly. Since 2020, the assembly has been increasingly dominated by MPs opposed to the government.

The latest general election was called by the emir last month after he again dissolved parliament due to persistent political deadlock.

Kuwait adopted a parliamentary system in 1962 but repeated political crises in recent years have resulted in state paralysis, with consecutive elected assemblies dissolved by the ruling emir.

Kuwait is the only Gulf Arab state to have an elected parliament with powers to hold the government to account.

“I came here today even though I’m tired of voting for a third time in as many years,” Abdulrahman Al Awadhi, 28, told The National.

“We want to see a parliament that will place the interest of the people first but one that could also work hand-in-hand with the government and find compromises to come up with some solutions for our problems."

On April 9, Kuwait’s seventh new government in three years was appointed after the previous cabinet resigned in January only three months after taking office.

Polls opened on Tuesday in Kuwait's seventh general election in little more than a decade. AFP

Little more than a week later, the ruling family dissolved parliament and called a new general election.

The last election, held eight months ago, delivered a mandate for change when voters elected 27 new MPs into the 50-member assembly, including conservative Islamists and two female politicians.

The political impasse between parliament and the government under Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al Sabah has mainly involved a draft bill calling on the government to take over the consumer and personal loans of Kuwaiti citizens, at an estimated value of several billion dinars.

The government said the move would be too expensive, costing almost $46 billion in public funds, while MPs said it would cost less than $6.5 billion.

Marzouq Al Ghanim, Kuwait's former parliamentary speaker, was running as a candidate in Tuesday's election. AFP

Disputes often develop when MPs want to question ministers about allegations of corruption or mismanagement of public spending.

While many MPs from the dissolved 2020 parliament and annulled 2022 parliament are expected to be re-elected, there is hope among observers that enough new faces would make it into the assembly to form an alliance bloc.

Nada Al Mutawa, an expert in Kuwaiti parliamentary affairs, said: “We’re now seeing a movement where there’s a willingness among candidates to form blocs within parliament. We’ve also seen candidates campaigning against each other in the same constituency to form a bloc with each other to unify their agendas if they make it to the finish line."

Updated: June 07, 2023, 9:22 AM