1. Archive

Landslide win goes to critics

Government critics woke up to something of a shock Tuesday _ a landslide victory in Kuwait's first parliamentary elections in seven years.

Seven loosely allied opposition groups and independent candidates captured 35 of the 50 Parliament seats. Most of the 15 solid seats for the government came from the ruling al-Sabah family's supporters in tribal areas.

Ward politicians who tried to trade on their influence with the bureaucracy lost nearly everywhere in Monday's vote.

"I think the Iraqi invasion was a shock to the Kuwaitis. They did not want to give any chance to someone interested in dilly-dallying. They want strong representatives," said Abdul Rahman al-Najjar, a columnist for the government-backed newspaper Sawt Al-Kuwait.

But it was unclear how much power the opposition will be allowed to wield. The ruling family ignored previous parliaments in choosing a Cabinet to run government agencies and dissolved the previous Parliament in 1986.

Throughout the 18 months since Iraqi occupiers were driven from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf war, opposition speeches calling for a strong Parliament to supervise the government seemed to draw only small knots of committed followers in this emirate of 650,000 people.

But the election indicated the country _ or at least the male elite allowed to vote _ agreed. Only about 81,500 "first-class citizens" who can trace Kuwaiti ancestry to 1921 could vote.

There was no immediate reaction from the government or the al-Sabah princes, who were barred from voting.

"I am sure none of them slept yesterday when they learned the results. But they will have to accept it because the whole world is watching whether Kuwait is democratic," said Imad al-Seif, who ran the successful campaign of opposition leader Ahmed al-Khatib.

Among the leading issues for Parliament are finding ways to beef up Kuwait's defense, reviewing its overseas investments and stream-lining citizenship laws.

The emir, Shiek Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, dissolved Parliament in 1986 when it became too critical of government ministers.