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Kuwaitis vote in austerity-focused poll, energized by opposition

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwaitis turned out in large numbers Saturday for the first election contested by the opposition in nearly four years amid fresh disputes over cuts in subsidies due to falling oil revenues.
Turnout was high with some polling stations reporting that 80 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots by the time polls closed at 8 p.m. (1700 GMT), according to Kuwait Television. Vote counting started at some centers but final results are not expected before early Sunday.
While Kuwait’s two previous elections yielded poor turnout due to opposition boycotts, voters said they were encouraged by seeing their candidates running this time around.
“Their return is needed to strike a political balance in the country. They are more capable of monitoring the government actions,” voter Ibrahim Al-Tulaihi said at a polling station south of Kuwait City.
“A wise opposition is needed because we don’t want more political disputes,” Jarrah Mohammad, a government employee, said after casting his ballot.
“There will be no charges on citizens because we have no problem with finances. We have a problem with government management and corruption,” Matar said.
A total of 293 candidates, including 14 women, are contesting 50 seats in an assembly that enjoys legislative powers but has often been at odds with the government. The opposition is fielding 30 candidates.
“We want the next Parliament to stop the government from hiking prices,” said pensioner Maasouma Abdullah. But others said they could accept a slight raise because of dwindling oil revenues.
“I think we should accept some reasonable raises but not on power and water. Oil revenues have dropped sharply and we should take measures,” voter Jabr Al-Jalahma said.
Opposition candidates campaigned heavily for economic and social reform and an end to what they charge is rampant corruption.
The election focused on recent government austerity measures aimed at tackling the nation’s deficit.
The Parliament was due to run until July 2017, but Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, dissolved it in October, saying “security challenges” in the region — an apparent reference to wars in Iraq and Syria — should be met by consulting the popular will.
“I hope we will have a better Parliament than the previous one,” said a 22-year-old Islamic Waqf Affairs Ministry employee after she voted for the first time at a girls’ school in the upper middle class Al-Rawda district in southern Kuwait City.
“We want young men who can help turn Kuwait into a financial and commercial hub, and who can help give people their rights without the help of influential people,” said Amal Abul, 45, a department head at the Education Ministry.
The opposition, comprising hard-liners, liberals and pan-Arabists, won a majority in the February 2012 election but boycotted another in December that year over changes to voting rules that activists said favored pro-government candidates.
Campaigning has focused mainly on austerity measures adopted in the past year after officials forecast a deficit of 9.5 billion dinars ($31 billion) for the 2016/17 fiscal year. The OPEC state relies on oil for about 90 percent of its revenues.
Amal Al-Jarallah, a 50-year-old Education Department employee, said she wanted to see MPs try to improve health and education standards and help working mothers.
Asked if she wanted to see women in Parliament, she said: “If they are qualified, yes. But that is not an issue.”