Kuwaiti opposition hails election boycott

Oil-rich nation becoming more divided

Kuwaiti opposition groups Sunday declared their election boycott a success after a drop in voter turnout, highlighting a growing divide with the royal family.

The oil-rich nation held parliamentary elections Saturday that were largely boycotted by Islamist and liberals forces.

As Kuwait's official news agency reported that the emir and crown prince were sending congratulatory messages to election winners, opposition groups hailed their boycott as successful.

 

"Despite the government's media campaign to interfere in the electoral process and their clear criticism of the boycott as a peaceful movement ... the ballot boxes came to prove that the majority of the people reject" the elections, the Popular Committee for Boycotting the Election said in a statement.

Saturday's turnout was about 40% compared with nearly 60% in February's parliamentary elections in which Sunni Islamists and tribal Bedouins made big gains, according to election officials.

In June, the country's constitutional court declared the February elections invalid and re-instated the former government-leaning assembly. Opposition groups are protesting the invalidation of the results and a new voting law, which they say is unconstitutional.

Later in the same month, 35 members of the Islamist-led parliament resigned and demanded a "full parliamentary system."

After weeks of mass protests and following a recommendation from his Cabinet, Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah dissolved parliament in October and ordered new elections in December. He also made the unpopular changes to the voting system.

But the Islamists and tribal leaders, who had won in February's elections, formed a bloc calling for a boycott to the elections.

The group has gained popularity among ordinary Kuwaitis frustrated with the disconnect between their elected parliamentarians and government officials who are usually hand-picked by the emir.

The boycott bloc, which calls the newly elected 50-member parliament "illegitimate," has drastically affected the makeup of the assembly.

Certain groups performed well.

Shiite candidates doubled their number by gaining at least 15 seats, the most they've had at parliament. Women, who were allowed to vote for the first time in 2005, also staged a comeback in the new parliament by gaining three seats.

Also, for the first time in Kuwait's history, two powerful tribes -- Al Mutair and Al Awazem -- will not be represented in parliament.

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