Kuwait parliamentary election race kicks off under shadow of pandemic

AFP/Kuwait City
Filed on December 5, 2020

A billboard advertising a parliamentary candidate on a main street ahead of parliamentary elections in Kuwait city. — Reuters

A worker cleans desks at a polling station ahead of parliamentary elections in Kuwait city. — Reuters

Special polling stations set in each electoral district for voters with Covid-19 as voting begins

Kuwait is holding parliamentary elections today under the shadow of Covid-19, with facilities laid on for citizens infected with the disease to vote in special polling stations.

The country has enforced some of the strictest regulations to combat the spread of the coronavirus, imposing a months-long nationwide lockdown earlier this year.

But while some curbs have eased, over-the-top election events that traditionally draw thousands for lavish banquets are out, masks remain mandatory and temperature checks are routine when venturing outdoors.

Infected people or those under mandatory quarantine are usually confined to home, with electronic wristbands monitoring their movements.

But in an effort to include all constituents, authorities have designated five schools — one in each electoral district — where they can vote, among the 102 polling stations across the country.

Election officials are expected to be in full personal protective equipment.

With more than 143,917 coronavirus cases to date, including 886 deaths, the election campaign has been toned down this year.

The polls, which open at 8am will be the first since the His Majesty Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait, took office in September. But with the opposition weakened in recent years, no major political shifts are expected.

A few electoral banners dotted through the streets have been the only reminder of the nation's political calendar. Instead, this year's campaign has mainly been fought on social networks and in the media.

More than 567,000 voters will be eligible to choose among the 326 candidates contesting the vote, including 29 women.

Ahmad Deyain, secretary-general of the opposition group Kuwaiti Progressive Movement, said he expected a lower voter turnout than previous years after the dulled-down campaign.

The usual themes are a constant though, from promises to fight corruption and plans to address youth employment, to freedom of expression, housing, education and the thorny issue of the "bidoon", Kuwait's stateless minority.

Kuwait was the first Gulf Arab state to adopt a parliamentary system in 1962, and women in 2005 won the right to vote and to stand for election.

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