By B Izzak
KUWAIT: Prominent opposition figure Obaid Al-Wasmi won a parliamentary seat in an unprecedented fashion in a by-election held yesterday, securing a record number of votes and defeating his rivals impressively. For the first time in the history of Kuwait’s parliamentary elections, Wasmi’s total tally crossed 43,000 votes, eclipsing the previous record high of just over 30,000 votes secured by another prominent opposition figure Musallam Al-Barrak, currently living in self-exile in Turkey to escape a jail sentence.
Wasmi’s win was so impressive that all his 14 rivals together scored less than 8 percent of the total votes cast amid very low turnout, unofficially estimated at under 30 percent. The contestant in second place secured less than 1,300 votes. The seat fell vacant after the constitutional court nullified the election of opposition MP Bader Al-Dahoum on the basis of a controversial law which bars those convicted of insulting HH the Amir from holding public office.
HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah
commended cooperation and coordination undertaken by numerous public bodies, which helped facilitate the voting process in the fifth constituency. The supreme judicial committee tasked with overseeing the matter, ministry of interior, ministry of information, ministry of health, ministry of education and Kuwait Fire Force were singled out for praise.
Wasmi, a professor of law at Kuwait University, decided to contest the seat after a group of veteran opposition politicians pressed him in a bid to compensate for the loss of Dahoum’s seat and maintain the opposition’s strength in the National Assembly. Wasmi contested the seat in the fifth constituency, the largest in the country with 166,000 voters. According to unofficial figures, fewer than 50,000 voters cast their ballots.
With Wasmi leading from the very beginning with a huge margin, his supporters staged noisy celebrations. Wasmi was elected to the Assembly for the first time in the Feb 2012 Assembly elections, which were declared null and void four months later by the constitutional court over a procedural flaw.
An outspoken politician, Wasmi is expected to embolden the opposition, which has around 31 MPs in the 50-member house. The country has seen ongoing political disputes between the opposition and the government, in addition to government-backed Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem, since the Dec 5 election. Since then, the Assembly has held only a few sessions, which were dominated by heated exchanges and boycotts.