Kuwait: Vote your conscience, says new ruling

Arab Times - Kuwait
The Al-Ifta and Islamic Research Sector at the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs has issued a fatwa stating “no one can force any citizen, either male or female, to vote for any specific candidate.”
This fatwa invalidates the earlier one issued by Dean of the Faculty of Sharia Cleric Dr Mohammed Al-Tabtabaei and gives Kuwaiti women the freedom to vote for the candidate of their choice without any pressure from their husbands.
Recently Dr Mohammed Al-Tabtabaei issued a fatwa, which said “a divorce claimed by a husband on the grounds that his wife didn’t vote according to his preference will be valid.”

In its statement the Al-Ifta and Islamic Research Sector advised voters and candidates not to involve any personal interest in the election process, and not to receive or pay bribes. It also cautioned against forcing voters to give a solemn oath to vote for a specific candidate. Meanwhile, board members of Zakat House have decided to take legal action against several candidates, who had accused Zakat House of funding and supporting certain candidates.

A reliable source from the Zakat House said “the administrative board of Zakat House held a meeting Tuesday to discuss this issue and take legal measures against candidates, who accused Zakat House of extending financial support to certain candidates.” As a government corporation the mission of Zakat House is to manage donations through proper channels according to strict accounting procedures, he added.

Indicating all expenditures and transactions of the Zakat House are recorded and audited properly, the source said “we have no role in supporting any candidate.” The accusations leveled by the candidates are false and baseless, he said. In another development, four Kuwaiti Islamist activists have been arrested for allegedly destroying election posters of a female candidate in the June 29 parliamentary election, the candidate said Tuesday.

“The authorities have informed me that the men belonged to an Islamist group opposed to women’s political rights,” Aisha al-Rasheed, running from an Islamist stronghold constituency, told a press conference. The interior ministry has said nothing about the arrests. Rasheed said unidentified men damaged at least two dozen posters, tore others down and wrote “indecent words” calling on her to pull out from the election race because she is a woman.

“This is an act of terror … I believe they were sent by certain people to force me to withdraw. But I will continue in the race and I will not back down,” Rasheed, a journalist, said without giving more details. Rasheed became the first Kuwaiti woman to register as a candidate in the election after women were granted full political rights in May 2005.

Meanwhile, three more candidates pulled out of the June 20 Parliament elections Tuesday taking the total number of running candidates to 343. The withdrawals are on low ebb, but will soon spike as the election date approaches, said election experts at Shuwaikh electoral office. Talking about the issues in the upcoming election along which the battle lines are drawn, the experts pointed out corruption as a burning topic. Vote buying is constantly broadsided by all the major campaigners, they said.

One interesting hoarding message of candidate Mansour Al Maharib from the 3rd Constituency says “Kuwait is not for sale” printed against a ‘prohibition’ icon. Experts agreed with the message saying the phenomenon of vote buying, which is happening so openly in Kuwait is a shame upon our nation “that sings the paeans of democracy and pats its own back for being the champion of democracy in the region.”

The list of candidates who withdrew their nominations on Tuesday is:

10th Constituency
Basil Al-Gharballi; registered on June 3

21st Constituency
Ahmed Al-Ghareeb; registered on June 3

22nd Constituency
Fawaz Al-Utaibi; registered on June 3

By Valiya S. Sajjad, Fahhad Al-Feyhan and Agencies
22nd June 2006 : Web Edition No: 12556