x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Kuwait's votes speak of desire for swift change

Gains for Kuwait's marginalised tribes and liberals come at the cost of Shia minority.

For the sixth time in almost as many years, Kuwaitis went to the polls on Saturday to a elect a new National Assembly. The politics of the small Gulf state have been riven by conflict over the past few years - this was the second time in eight months that Kuwaitis voted and the third time in 18 months.

Moreover, the poll came after opposition Islamists and other groups boycotted the last election, angry at a change in the voting system that came into force last year which cut the number of votes per citizen from four to one.

That was the backdrop to the vote. And yet, despite taking place on short notice - the court decision that upheld the new voting system was issued a few weeks ago - and taking place in the heat of Ramadan, the turnout was significantly higher than the previous one. One news agency estimated the turnout at 52 per cent, based on official government figures. That would make the turnout 12 per cent higher than the last vote.

The results brought gains for some of Kuwait's marginalised tribes as well as liberals but also losses for the country's Shia minority - Despite comprising between 20 to 30 per cent of the population, the Shia minority took just eight seats in the 50-seat assembly, a drop of nine seats from last time.

What do these numbers mean for Kuwait? Perhaps, finally, the country can put its recent political instability to rest and focus on economic development.

Like other oil-rich Gulf states, Kuwait has planned billions of dollars worth of development projects. And yet while Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have surged ahead, the northernmost Gulf state has been held back by political deadlock.

The high turnout speaks of a strong desire for change. Sectarian tensions have risen over the past two years but it is hoped this vote will bring about a National Assembly that Kuwaitis feel represents them. No one wants to see a country with so much potential hamstrung by politics.

There is also a clear desire for bringing new faces - 23 of the assembly members, nearly half, had not been elected before.

Perhaps this time the assembly members will be able to complete their terms.