12/02/2012 11:49 EST | Updated 02/01/2013 05:12 EST

Kuwait opposition hails low voter turnout

Opposition groups in Kuwait hailed their election boycott as a success Sunday after officials said voter turnout on Saturday was sharply lower than during the last parliamentary races earlier this year.

Kuwait's Ministry of Information said 40.3 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots. That compares with nearly 60 per cent in the February elections.

As expected, the results point to a solidly pro-government chamber. Three women are among the new 50-seat parliament, which is expected to hold its first session within two weeks after the end of procedural issues to name a new government.

A wide-reaching opposition coalition, including conservative Islamists and Western-leaning liberals, boycotted the vote to protest alleged power abuses by the ruling family. They have vowed to press ahead with street demonstrations despite a ban on major political gatherings in public.

Kuwait's parliament is the most politically powerful among the Gulf Arab states, but the ruling establishment controls all key government posts and policies.

Kuwait has largely escaped the unrest sweeping the region, and any potential for greater unrest is closely watched by Washington, which has thousands of U.S. ground forces in the country as part of the Pentagon's military counterweight to Iran in the Persian Gulf.

Islamists and tribal allies won control of the 50-seat parliament in February elections, but the chamber was later dissolved over a legal challenge by the ruling establishment over electoral districts. Kuwait has been left without an effective working parliament for more than five months.

Complaints against authorities include increasing efforts to muzzle free speech and failure to have Kuwait's economy and growth keep pace with other dynamic Gulf centres such as Qatar's capital Doha and the United Arab Emirates' hubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Last month, four people were arrested on charges of insulting Kuwait's emir in Twitter posts.

Security forces watched over polling stations across Kuwait, but no disturbances were reported and the full 12-hour voting period was held.