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Shiites score big in Kuwait’s parliamentary polls

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Kuwait’s Shiite minority emerged the main victors in the Gulf-state’s parliamentary polls, amid a boycott by the opposition which considered the new assembly “illegitimate” amid poor voter turnout.

Shiite candidates bagged 17 of the 50-seat parliament, their biggest tally ever, as they refused to join calls by the Sunni-dominated opposition to boycott the polls in protest against the amendment of electoral law.

Shiites, who form around 30 percent of Kuwait’s native population of 1.2 million, had nine seats in the previous parliament elected in 2009 and seven in the assembly elected in February and later scrapped by a court.

Three women were elected to the new parliament compared to four in 2009, according to results released by the National Election Commission.

The new house includes as many as 30 new faces reflecting the total boycott by former MPs who are leading members of the opposition.

Sunni Islamists were reduced to a small minority of four MPs compared with as many as 23 in the house elected in February.

The boycott was called to protest the government’s unilateral amendment of the key electoral law ahead of the polls.

The opposition hailed the boycott as very successful as a majority of voters stayed home, and described the election as “unconstitutional.”

“Based on statistics compiled by the opposition, the voter turnout was 26.7 percent,” said former MP Khaled al-Sultan at the end of an emergency meeting by the opposition after the ballots closed.

The information ministry website however reported that turnout was 38.8 percent and opposition youth groups reported lower percentages. No official figures have been released by the National Election Commission.

Veteran opposition leader Ahmad al-Saadoun said the “election is unconstitutional,” while several other former MPs called on Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah to repeal the disputed amendment.

The opposition Popular Committee for Boycotting Election said in a statement that the new parliament “does not represent the majority of Kuwaiti people and has lost popular and political legitimacy.”

It also said all legislation issued by the house will be considered illegal.

The Islamist, nationalist and liberal opposition had vowed to continue street protests until it forces the demise of the parliament.

The vote comes nearly two months after the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, dissolved a pro-government parliament following its reinstatement in June by a court ruling that also annulled an assembly elected in February.

The latest crisis was triggered by the government’s unilateral amendment of the electoral law. The opposition says this will enable the government to manipulate polls results and elect a rubber stamp parliament.

Meanwhile, political analyst Mohammad al-Ajmi said the new parliament will be unlikely to survive for a long period as the country appears headed for an escalation of tension.

“I think the election will herald a new phase of political instability following the huge boycott ... because the new parliament does not fairly represent the Kuwaiti society,” Ajmi told AFP.

The major Bedouin tribes which boycotted the polls were the main losers, according to Ajmi.

The Awazem, Mutair and Ajmans, the biggest three tribes with a population of over 400,000 people have only one MP in the new parliament against an average of 17 in previous assemblies.

The recent polls were monitored by international observers coming from 15 different countries, in addition to a local high electoral commission of independent judges, according to Al Arabiya’s correspondent.

Voting passed off without any incident despite high political tension between the Islamist, nationalist and liberal opposition and the government led by the Al-Sabah ruling family.

As per Kuwaiti law, the cabinet must resign and a new government be formed before the new assembly holds its inaugural session within two weeks.