JEDDAH: Kuwaitis voted in parliamentary elections on Saturday for the first time since Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah became emir in September.
More than 300 candidates, including 29 women, contested 50 seats in the Gulf’s oldest and most outspoken assembly with legislative powers. Results are expected on Sunday.
Campaigning took place mostly on social media and local TV channels because of COVID-19 restrictions. Voters wore masks and gloves, and had their temperature taken before entering polling stations where election officials stood behind glass barriers.
Waiting areas with chairs at least 2 meters apart were set up in the playgrounds of some schools serving as polling stations, the Interior Ministry said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Sabah toured polling stations and said he was happy with voter turnout and health measures.
He cautioned Kuwaitis against gathering to celebrate when the results are announced.
The main campaign themes included promises to fight corruption and address youth employment, along with debates over freedom of expression, housing, education and the issue of the stateless “bidoon” minority.
“Kuwait needs development. The streets are broken and there is no development and no economy ... and coronavirus has affected everything in every way,” said Ibrahim, a government employee, after voting in Kuwait City.
Hoda Al-Hassan, who voted in the Al-Rawda area of the city, said: “We want change, new blood, to encourage the youth. I also hope that the parliament will resolve the issue of the bidoon and that of the demographic imbalance.”
Yousef Ahmed Safar, who voted in Al-Nazha, also hoped for reform.
“We want to improve our situation, including in employment and housing, as well as the issue of combatting corruption,” he said.
Kuwait’s economy, which is worth nearly $140 billion, is facing a deficit of $46 billion this year. A government priority is to overcome parliamentary gridlock on legislation that would allow Kuwait to tap international debt markets.
Kuwaiti analyst Mohammed Al-Dawsari said the emirate may witness a struggle between the new national assembly and the government over economic legislation.
“The people were not satisfied with the performance of the previous parliament, and there are many who are calling for a comprehensive reconciliation between the government and the opposition,” he said.