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Last Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
Q&A: Kuwait election
Election posters at a Kuwaiti printer
For the first time women are standing and voting in the election

Kuwaitis go to the polls on 29 June to elect a new parliament. The election, originally scheduled for 2007, was brought forward by the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, following a bitter dispute in the outgoing parliament over electoral reforms.

What's at stake?

Kuwaiti politics has been going through a turbulent period in recent months. The emir dissolved parliament in May amid a row between reform-minded MPs and the government over changes to the electoral system.

The cabinet had backed a bill that cuts the number of voting districts from 25 to 10, but the MPs wanted the number lowered to five. They argue that the existence of a large number of small constituencies promotes corruption and vote-buying.

Many candidates have made fighting alleged corruption amongst the ruling elite and senior government officials a key issue, in what has been a heated election campaign.

Following an historic bill passed in 2005, for the first time women are being allowed to vote and to stand as parliamentary candidates.

What's the wider background?

Earlier this year, Kuwait saw the death of long-time ruler Emir Jaber al-Ahmad, which prompted an unprecedented leadership crisis involving rival branches of the ruling Sabah dynasty.

Parliament voted to oust the new emir, Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah, on health grounds, the first time a Gulf ruler has been removed by a constitutional process. Sheikh Sabah was appointed emir in his place.

The new emir moved quickly to name his brother as crown prince and his nephew as prime minister. The jobs, traditionally held by one individual, were separated in 2003.

The appointment of the crown prince also broke with the tradition of alternating power between rival branches of the Sabah dynasty.

Members of the ruling family continue to hold most of the key cabinet posts.

How does the electoral system work?

Kuwait is divided into 25 electoral districts, with two seats up for grabs in each. Up to 15 further seats in parliament are reserved for government ministers, who are all appointees rather than elected representatives.

There are about 340,000 eligible voters, of whom over half are women.

Around 250 candidates are standing, ranging from conservative Islamists to liberals, pro-government candidates and independents. The figure includes 28 women candidates.

According to Kuwaiti media, 47 MPs in the dissolved assembly are standing for re-election.

There are no officially recognised political parties in Kuwait, although there are semi-formal political groupings and parliamentary blocs.

The opposition is said to be far from united, and the Islamist, liberal and nationalist political groupings are all fielding candidates in a bid to boost their parliamentary numbers.

What happened last time?

Islamists and supporters of the government made gains in the June 2003 elections, while there were major losses for Western-leaning liberals.

Pro-cabinet candidates took 14 seats, while conservative Islamists took 21 seats. Liberals and their supporters took just three seats - a big drop from the 14 they had in the outgoing parliament. The remaining 12 seats were won by independent candidates.

The election was generally considered to be free and fair, although there were reports of vote-buying by both government and opposition candidates. Turnout among the all-male electorate was reported to be high.

So how important is parliament?

Kuwait's parliament is considered to be the strongest of those in the Gulf monarchies, and the National Assembly often expresses differences of opinion with cabinet in a robust fashion.

Although the emir has the final word on most government policies, parliament plays a real role in decision making, with powers to initiate legislation, question government ministers over important issues, and express lack of confidence in individual ministers.

It was an unprecedented demand by MPs to question the prime minister over the electoral reform bill, together with a parliamentary walk-out by 29 opposition MPs, that precipitated the early election.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.







A GUIDE TO THE MIDDLE EAST

 

 

Compiled by BBC Monitoring

SEE ALSO
Kuwaiti leader calls new election
21 May 06 |  Middle East
Kuwaiti women vote for first time
04 Apr 06 |  Middle East
Profile: Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah
31 Jan 06 |  Middle East
Conservatism threatens Kuwaiti reforms
21 Jan 06 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Obituary: Sheikh Jaber, Emir of Kuwait
15 Jan 06 |  Middle East
Kuwait's emir seeks to end feud
11 Oct 05 |  Middle East
Kuwait's woman minister sworn-in
20 Jun 05 |  Middle East

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