x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Kuwait snubs council elections

Many Kuwaitis stayed away from the country's second election in less than a month yesterday when the country voted for the municipal council.

KUWAIT CITY // Many Kuwaitis stayed away from the country's second election in less than a month yesterday when the country voted for the municipal council. The subdued polls starkly contrasted with the high turnout for last month's hard-fought parliamentary elections. Officials at some stations estimated the turnout will be as low as 20 per cent.

"I think people are working now and more will come in the afternoon when the weather is cooler," said Khalifa al Tannak, who cast his vote at one of the schools. "The municipality is very important for giving out land, planning, building, landscaping and so many other things for the future," One of the candidates, Rashid Buresli, has been elected to one of Kuwait's co-operative societies before and is now trying to reach the municipal council for the first time.

"The most important issues are to get more experienced workers into the municipality and focus on developing Kuwait Island," Mr Buresli said. "We are also trying to change Law Five of 2005 and get more authority," he said, referring to a power struggle between the municipality and the government after a new law curtailed the council's powers. The law gave the minister for public works and municipal affairs the right to overrule decisions made by the council. Many Kuwaitis believe reducing the municipality's independence has led to the hold up of the country's development projects.

Other issues topping the candidates' agenda included finding solutions to housing shortages for young Kuwaitis, providing more land, reducing unemployment and easing Kuwait's growing traffic problem. There are 72 candidates, including three women, fighting in 10 constituencies for a seat on the municipal council. In addition to the 10 constituency winners, six unelected members are chosen by the government for a total of 16 seats.

Nearly 350,000 Kuwaitis were eligible to vote from 8am to 8pm. The results were expected at around midnight yesterday, the minister of justice, Rashed al Hammad, said. The municipality acts as Kuwait's caretaker. It is responsible for the planning of government buildings, roads, mosques and churches. It allocates land to companies or individuals, removes rubbish and regulates Kuwait's cemeteries. It also inspects restaurants, markets, and all imports of food into the country, and issues licences to new businesses or workers in the catering sector.

Some of Kuwait's MPs have used a seat in the municipal council to gain political experience before moving on to parliament. Roudhan al Roudhan, who received more votes than any other candidate in his constituency in the recent parliamentary elections, held a council seat before first going to the National Assembly in 2008. With just three women standing in the election, they will be unable to repeat their now-famous result last month, when four were elected to parliament for the first time. But even if one female candidate succeeds, it will be another breakthrough. No woman has ever been elected to the council before, although two women have served on it after they were appointed in 2005. Women had just received full political rights in May of that year.

Both male and female candidates failed to inspire many Kuwaitis to brave the searing heat and cast their votes. "Because we have made so many elections in the last three years, maybe the people are bored with it," said Ibrahim al Saif, a judge in the court of appeal who was overseeing voting at one of the schools. jcalderwood@thenational.ae