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Economic reforms weigh on Kuwait's parliamentary election
November 26, 2016, 8:06 am

Kuwaitis vote on Saturday for a new parliament the government hopes will help push through reforms to a lavish welfare state to curb a budget deficit caused by weak oil prices.

Nearly 300 candidates are vying for 50 seats in an assembly that has legislative powers but which critics say has long acted as a drag on attempts to strengthen fiscal discipline in one of the world's wealthiest countries.

The parliament was due to run until July 2017, but the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, dissolved it in October, saying "security challenges" in the region - an apparent reference to wars in Iraq and Syria - should be met by consulting the popular will.

But campaigning has focused mainly on austerity measures adopted by the government in the past year after officials announced a deficit forecast at 9.5 billion dinars for the 2016/17 fiscal year. The OPEC state relies on oil for about 90 percent of its revenues.

Some opposition figures, who boycotted 2012 and 2013 polls over changes to voting rules that activists said favoured pro-government candidates, are participating in this election.

Although the deficit is likely to be smaller than forecast as it was based on an oil price of $25 a barrel, many Kuwaitis fear the government will try to further raise prices and cut many of the perks they have enjoyed for decades, including free health care, education, subsidised basic products, free housing or land plots and interest-free loans to many citizens.

The cabinet has approved economic reforms, including increasing gasoline prices by as much as 80 percent from September.

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