The countdown for one of Kuwait’s most hotly-contested parliamentary elections has started amid grand promises of positive changes by candidates and scepticism by voters weary and wary of pompous pledges.
By the end of the registration process on Friday evening, 454 Kuwaiti citizens had signed up their names to run for the 50 seats in the parliament on November 26. The candidates have until November 19 to decide whether they want to continue with their decision to enter the polls, or to withdraw.
The decision by many of the opposition figures, mainly Islamists and tribal figures, to run in the elections next month has helped swell the figure of candidates and augmented the suspense about the winners.
However, the participation of the opposition could lessen the chances of women to win seats as past experiences have indicated. Out of the 454 contestants, only 15 women registered to run, a figure that is well below the 28 out of 252 candidates figure in 2006 when women were allowed to run for the first time in parliamentary elections, or the 27 out of 275 candidates in 2008.
In February 2013, out of the 286 candidates, 23 women had registered their names. The overall number of candidates for the elections is likely to come down with the start of the campaigns and the emergence of formidable challenges and prominence of some well-known figures with strong support.
According to official figures, five women signed up in the First Electoral District against 67 men, three women in the Second Electoral District against 58 men, three women against 62 men in the Third Electoral District, one woman against 115 men in the Fourth Electoral District and three women against 137 men in the Fifth Electoral District.
Reports in Kuwait say that most voters are not inclined to trust the promises enthusiastically made by former lawmakers, explaining that they had heard such pledges in the past, but nothing materialised on the ground.
“Some candidates do not seem to really care about the issues, problems and aspirations of the voters and just want to get their votes,” an observer told Kuwaiti daily Al Qabas. “They go for pompous mottos to tickle the patriotism of the people or to make them dream about the future, but without detailing their programmes. At the end of the day, they are just empty promises and hollow pledges.”
Other candidates have opted for an aggressive campaign, in which they criticise the government. “However, voters do wonder whether the candidates will continue with the criticism or show willingness to question ministers if they are elected,” another observer said.
Kuwaiti Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah this month called for the elections following the dissolving of the parliament elected in 2013 and expected to run until July 2017.
It was the ninth time the parliament was dissolved in Kuwait since the start of the constitutional life in 1962. The November elections will be the seventh to be held in Kuwait since 2006. The elections in 2013 were boycotted by Islamist and populist groups ostensibly to protest against the amendment of the election law that slashed the number of candidates a voter could elect from four to one.
The government said the move aimed to bring the electoral procedural in the country in line with international standards while the opposition claimed it was meant to exclude it and to bring in a more compliant parliament. The Constitutional Court ruled in favour of the one-vote elections.