Op­po­si­tion re­turns to bal­lot di­vided

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

The up­com­ing elec­tion will give Kuwait a chance to elect new rep­re­sen­ta­tives to what is ar­guably the Gulf’s most pow­er­ful leg­is­la­ture, as the coun­try is squeezed by low oil prices and fear­ful of ex­trem­ist at­tacks. But what does one prom­i­nent can­di­date think ranks among the great­est dan­gers fac­ing this OPEC na­tion? Cross-fit. “Com­pet­ing ath­letes play in a mixed en­vi­ron­ment, with for­eign and even some Kuwaiti women wear­ing in­de­cent clothes, like sports bras, in a pub­lic and mixed en­vi­ron­ment,” railed Waleed AlTabtabaei, a prom­i­nent op­po­si­tion fig­ure. “This is shame­ful and un­ac­cept­able.”

Tabtabaei’s com­ments and those of oth­ers show how splin­tered Kuwait’s op­po­si­tion is de­spite many now say­ing they’ll take part in the Nov 26 poll af­ter boy­cotting the last elec­tion, which fol­lowed tu­mul­tuous Arab Spring protests. Since the National As­sem­bly was dis­solved in late Oc­to­ber, 454 hope­fuls have regis­tered to run for the 50-seat par­lia­ment. Law­mak­ers on pa­per have four-year terms, though most par­lia­ments are dis­solved early in Kuwait.

Among those run­ning are many who sat out of Kuwait’s 2012 elec­tion, in­clud­ing con­ser­va­tive Is­lamists and lib­eral re­form­ers. Oth­ers re­main im­pris­oned, like op­po­si­tion politi­cian Musal­lam AlBar­rak, who is serv­ing a two-year sen­tence for a political speech deemed of­fen­sive to HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ah­mad Al-Sabah.

“We be­lieve that we de­liv­ered a clear mes­sage by boy­cotting the pre­vi­ous elec­tions,” said Mo­hammed AlDal­lal, a mem­ber of the Is­lamic Con­sti­tu­tional Move­ment, Kuwait’s ver­sion of the Mus­lim Brother­hood. “How­ever, de­spite the fact that things have not changed, we feel that the up­com­ing pe­riod ne­ces­si­tates that we par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tions,” he said. “We need to take an ac­tive role in deal­ing with the ex­tra­or­di­nary political and economic cir­cum­stances that the re­gion is go­ing through.”

Kuwait al­lows far more pub­lic dis­sent than other coun­tries in the re­gion, many of which have out­lawed the Brother­hood and jailed its mem­bers. Par­lia­ment rou­tinely calls pow­er­ful politi­cians to ac­count, and the re­cently dis­solved group of law­mak­ers had planned to ques­tion a host of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in the com­ing weeks about widely un­pop­u­lar sub­sidy cuts. While Kuwait has the world’s sixth largest proven oil re­serves, its econ­omy has been reel­ing. The global price of oil has been halved from heights of over $100 a bar­rel in the sum­mer of 2014, forc­ing the gov­ern­ment to cut gaso­line sub­si­dies and scale back cra­dle-to-grave ben­e­fits for its 1.4 mil­lion cit­i­zens.

The stal­wart US ally has also grown in­creas­ingly wor­ried about pos­si­ble mil­i­tant at­tacks. In 2015, an Is­lamic State-claimed sui­cide bomb­ing at a Shi­ite mosque in Kuwait City killed 27 peo­ple and wounded scores. In Oc­to­ber, an Egyp­tian who al­legedly was an Is­lamic State sup­porter rammed a garbage truck into a ve­hi­cle car­ry­ing US soldiers, wound­ing only him­self.

The gov­ern­ment is in some ways shack­led by the political free­doms its cit­i­zens en­joy, rat­ings agency Moody’s sug­gested in a note to in­vestors in Oc­to­ber. “These demo­cratic el­e­ments of the sys­tem ... can be par­tic­u­larly dis­rup­tive to gov­ern­ment ef­fec­tive­ness, which has been re­peat­edly demon­strated by the gov­ern­ment’s in­abil­ity to im­ple­ment re­forms,” Moody’s said.

Many can­di­dates so far seem to be fo­cus­ing on less ur­gent is­sues. Tabtabaei, who is sweat­ing the ar­rival of Cross-fit, be­gan his cam­paign with re­marks about a bal­lis­tic mis­sile launch by Shi­ite rebels in Ye­men that Saudi Ara­bia de­nounced as be­ing fired to­ward the holy city of Makkah.

Saleh Al-Nafisi, a political sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Gulf Univer­sity for Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy, said Tabtabaei’s cam­paign showed the lack of a co­he­sive strat­egy among the Kuwaiti op­po­si­tion, and risked in­flam­ing sec­tar­ian ten­sions among Kuwait’s Shi­ite and Sunni pop­u­la­tions, who live to­gether largely in peace. “The op­po­si­tion as it stands to­day is cer­tainly frac­tured,” he said. “Be­yond its di­vi­sions and lack of lead­er­ship, there is no clear agenda of what they want to achieve.” — AP

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