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Kuwait’s Elections: Islamist vs. Comedian

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Monday 5 December 201601:24 pm
The election season has begun in Kuwait, with elections due on November 26, 2016. In the five electoral districts of the country, a total of 454 candidates are running, including 15 women, for the 50 seats of Parliament. In every season, new people along with old well-known figures run for elections. However, two candidates in particular have been quite controversial this time.

Al-Tabtabai: a Proponent of Militarising the Fight in Syria

Known for his hardline Islamist ideology and calls to militarise the fight in Syria, Dr. Walid Al-Tabtabai was not expected to run for elections in the third district again. Several photos and videos showed the candidate participating in the“Aleppo Campaign” that trained 12 thousand fighters, where he appeared with members of the Syrian opposition. In addition, Al-Tabtabai is well-known for his staunch opposition to Iran and its policies in the region. In one of his statements, he is quoted saying that whoever insults Iran will be rewarded by “God Almighty, his Prophet and the believers”. After tweeting that Iran was imposing pressure on Kuwait to appoint a new heir, he was arrested but later acquitted from all accusations. While some people welcomed his candidacy, others showed a different view. On his personal twitter account, many people believed that the electorate did not appreciate his relentless efforts to serve the citizenry, adding that his personal record is full of accomplishments. According to his fans, Kuwaiti people do know those who have not failed them in Parliament. Commenting on Al-Tabtabai’s tweets, in which he defended public freedoms, human rights and sanctity of public money, many thought those were “hollow promises” that did not uphold the freedom of conscience, safeguarded by the constitution for all sects and religions in Kuwait, including Christians and Jews. Furthermore, they described him as having a “catastrophic impact on society” and a “blow to the Parliament’s progress” if he wins.

The Comedian Candidate

In another surprise, comedy actor Sha’ban Abbas, also known as “Sha’bola”, is running for elections in the fifth district. Many people thought the actor’s characteristics qualified him to be a member of Parliament, especially in light of his popularity.
When he first announced the news, people thought it was a joke as he is used to joking with his followers on Instagram. However, after confirming the news, his fans bombarded him with their best wishes, assuring him that he deserves the parliamentarian seat. They also advised him to focus on health and education in his electoral platform. Others advised him against running for political office, as they believed it wouldn’t be appropriate for an actor known for his “kindhearted character and sense of humour”, while the political arena needs hypocrites”.

Should Kuwaitis Boycott Elections?

Commenting on elections in general and candidates in particular, media professional and political analyst Aisha Rashid told raseef22 that “people should boycott upcoming parliamentarian elections” due to the inefficiency of candidates, the lack of a clear platform, and the clear foreign agendas of some candidates. Ever since candidates were announced, none of them has made Rashid change her mind. According to the analyst, some are still on the international terrorism list, while others are affiliated with Hezbollah, Al Qaeda or leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. As for former parliamentarians who are running again, they “want to wreak havoc in Kuwait for their personal interests”. She adds that “very few candidates deserve to be elected, but to others we say: Kuwait needs loyal people and not thieves”.

The Economics of the Elections

This season has a multi-faceted impact on the market, as many find it a “golden opportunity” for their business. Candidates need numerous services, including venues, sound and audio-visual equipment, advertising agencies and even livestock. Renting electoral headquarters can cost between 20 thousand and 35 thousand Kuwaiti DInars, equivalent to 66 thousand to 115 thousand US dollars, depending on the budget and the candidate’s needs. Audio, screens and lighting systems can cost KwD 12 000 ($40 000), and may increase depending on the duration. As for catering, including water, tea, Arabic coffee and dates, candidates pay more than KwD 5000($16 000) While preparing the headquarters, candidates need to start their “self-marketing” efforts, paying for each banner KwD 50 ($160). Thanks to feasts hosted by candidates, the livestock market also witnesses a boom, as the price of local sheep increases from less than KwD 90 to KwD 120 dinar ($400). In addition, because most of them prefer camels in big feasts, the price of a camel, which did not exceed KwD 200 dinar ($620), reaches around KwD 350 ($1150) in this season, and is expected to reach KwD 400 ($1300) in the next few days.

Tweeps Get their Share of the Profits

With the advent of technology and its generous advertising services, electoral campaigns are no longer restricted to banners and meetings in headquarters. A tweeps earns Kwd 8000 for 20 tweets, a rate that rises depending on the number of expected tweets. A tweet costs around KwD 400, and may cost even more as Kuwaitis approach the final date. As some tweeps told Raseef22, rates vary between top influencers, depending on their popularity on Twitter and may reach KwD 500 per tweet. Experts also provide live streaming services of seminars costing KwD 3000. In a fierce competition, in the virtual and real worlds, many candidates reach out to people through press and TV interviews. A single interview on Mashhoura TV station costs KwD 25 000, while the press interview ranges between KwD 2000 and 6000, depending on the size of the page and number of columns.

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