Kuwaitis have elected a new parliament in an election which saw two-thirds of politicians and the country’s only woman legislator lose their seats, election results released on Sunday showed.
The direction that the new 50-seat National Assembly will take remains unclear as 21 of them will become first-time legislators when they are sworn in on December 15.
But the challenges that face them remain the same in this oil-rich nation now struggling with a debt crisis and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Saturday’s election for Kuwait’s parliament, the freest assembly in the Gulf Arab countries, saw more than 60% of the country’s 560,000 registered voters turn out.
Under Kuwait’s system, the country is broken up into five voting districts, from which the top 10 candidates in each go on to parliament.
Online videos showed celebrations, with candidates lifted onto supporters’ shoulders, or in one case, riding a horse into a tent as traditional music blared.
The breakdown of what side the new legislators fell on was not immediately clear. Major blocs include those backing the ruling Al Sabah family, Islamists and relative liberals in this country where alcohol is illegal.
Safa al-Hashem, parliament’s only woman politician, lost her seat after winning 430 votes compared to 3,273 in 2016.
She had gained notoriety for her anti-foreign worker stances, including at one point saying expatriates “must be charged for everything, for medical services, infrastructure and again I say for the air they breath here”.
As is the custom after an election, Kuwait’s ruling emir Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah ordered the Cabinet be dissolved ahead of the new parliament taking its seats.
The vote came after the death in September of Kuwait’s ruler, the 91-year-old Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah.
Sheikh Nawaf, 83, quickly took power without any opposition.
The outgoing parliament then approved Sheikh Nawaf’s choice for crown prince, Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmad Al Jaber, the 80-year-old deputy head of Kuwait’s National Guard.
The new parliament will need to make decisions on a number of matters, perhaps none more important than Kuwait’s economy.
This autumn, the ratings agency Moody’s downgraded Kuwait for the first time in its history.
The finance minister warned that the government would not be able to pay salaries soon.
Kuwait’s national bank said the country’s deficit could hit 40% of its gross domestic product this year, the highest level since the financial devastation of the 1990 Iraqi invasion and subsequent Gulf War.