, KUWAIT CITY, Dec 1 – Kuwaitis cast ballots on Saturday to elect a second parliament in 10 months, but early turnout was low as voters appeared to heed an opposition call to shun the poll over a disputed electoral law.
The vote comes nearly two months after Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah scrapped the pro-government parliament following a court ruling that annulled an assembly elected in February.
At a polling station in Salwa, 15 kilometres (10 miles) south of Kuwait City, only a few people showed up among more than 4,600 eligible voters registered at the centre.
“I am voting because I care for my country. I am against the boycott calls,” Mahmud Abedin told AFP after casting his vote.
“Everything is made available to us by the government and the emir; good housing services, good salaries and many almost free public services, so why should we boycott,” the 47-year-old Abedin, a public sector employee, said.
Just before the start of voting, the centre in a predominantly tribal area was almost deserted except for dozens of policemen and electoral officials, unlike the previous election when long queues formed before polling began.
Chiefs of several Bedouin tribes have urged their tribesmen to boycott the elections.
In the nearby Rumeithiya area, there was more activity in the predominantly Shiite constituency but still far below the February polls which were nullified by the constitutional court in June.
“I am not entirely supporting the government, but I support the new voting system which gives only one vote for each voter,” Fatma Ahmad, a teacher, said after voting.
“I think the new system will produce a good parliament that will help resolve the problems in the country and bring stability back,” she said.
On the eve of the election, the fifth since mid-2006, tens of thousands of opposition supporters staged a massive demonstration to urge voters to boycott the ballot.
The opposition has staged several protests and gatherings against the government for unilaterally amending the electoral law, saying the move amounted to a coup against the constitution.
None of the opposition figures is among the 306 hopefuls, including 13 women, contesting the 50 seats, and so the next parliament is expected to be totally pro-government.
Under previous elections, a Kuwaiti voter was able to pick up to a maximum of four candidates and this was reduced by the amendment to just one. Each of Kuwait’s five constituencies elects 10 lawmakers.
Analysts see little hope the election will bring political stability to the wealthy Gulf state which has been rocked by lingering disputes stalling development despite abundant petrodollars.
In the run-up to the election, the Islamist, nationalist and liberal opposition staged massive street protests which often turned violent. About 150 people and 24 policemen were slightly hurt.
Turnout percentage is seen as the key test for the showdown, with the opposition expecting around a 70-percent boycott while pro-government candidates are hoping more than 50 percent of voters will show up.
The opposition said it will deploy people to monitor the number of voters casting their ballot for fear the government may inflate the figures.
The electorate is voting at around 100 polling stations in schools, with separate centres for men and women in line with the law.
Kuwait has a population of 3.8 million as of mid-2012, but 69 percent of those are foreigners and only 422,000 people are eligible to vote from among Kuwaitis who number 1.2 million.
The voting age is 21 and servicemen in the police and army are banned from taking part in the ballot. Women voters make up 54 percent of the electorate.
Polling closes at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) after 12 hours of voting, with the first results expected after midnight (2100 GMT) as ballot papers in Kuwait are still counted manually.