Youth groups play key role in Kuwait elections
KUWAIT CITY - Agence France-Presse
Supporters of opposition candidates in Kuwait's upcoming parliamentary elections attend an electoral campaign rally in Kuwait City on January 29, 2012. AFP photoKuwaiti youth groups buoyed by their success in helping to bring down the previous government and parliament are playing an active role in a general election to achieve their goals for change.
Youths inspired by the Arab Spring held protests that helped topple the former premier, dissolve a parliament accused of corruption and set the stage for Thursday's vote.
"We are actively taking part in the election campaign helping around 30 candidates who accept our ideas for comprehensive democratic reform," said Abdullah al-Shallahi, a leading activist with the Fifth Fence youth group.
"Our goals go far beyond the election period. We want fundamental reforms including a constitutional monarchy, reforming the election law and legalising political parties," Shallahi told AFP.
The Fifth Fence, which brings together activists from various ideologies and sects, was the first such group established after riot police beat a number of MPs at a rally in December 2010.
Since then, several youth groups like Kafi, Youth for Change, September 16 Youths and others were created and are working in close coordination to press for reform and the fight against corruption.
Kuwaiti youths have repeatedly said they are not against the Al-Sabah ruling family, in power for more than 250 years, but want radical changes.
Youth protests, which started in March, intensified when a major corruption scandal involving 13 former MPs was exposed in late August and after leading opposition figures began actively taking part in their protests.
"Youths led the protests after we became incapable of enforcing change," former Islamist opposition MP and candidate Faisal al-Muslim said at an election rally on Saturday.
"They have restored our hope and Kuwait's." At the start of the election campaign, youth activists launched the "Kuwait Charter 2012", an Internet petition that calls for wide-ranging political and economic reforms.
Enthusiastic young speakers have become regular guests at evening election rallies, urging voters to elect reformists and to shun pro-government candidates.
Besides using online social networks like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, activists have organised lively town-hall style debates for candidates, Shallahi said.
Experts attribute the protest movement in part to impotent economic policies and failure by the government to redistribute $300 billion of oil-generated assets into projects and new jobs.
Due to a high rate of population growth, 52 percent of Kuwait's 1.17 million citizens are below 20 years old and 41 percent are under 15, according to official data.
"We don't have candidates representing us, but we have been campaigning hard for at least six hopefuls and expect four to win," secretary general of the Youth for Change group, Yahya al-Dakheel, told AFP.
"We are backing those who adopt our goals: an elected government led by someone from outside the ruling family; a constitutional monarchy; and a full parliamentary system," Dakheel said.
Some youth groups are coordinating their campaigns in a bid to be more effective.
Islamist candidate and human rights activist Adel al-Damkhi said the youth activists have become a force to be reckoned with.
"Youths now are more powerful than parliament. They have been moving and monitoring mistakes and their reaction will be stronger than anyone can imagine," Damkhi said at an election meeting.
Youth activists however insist their activity is not linked to elections only and say they will return to the streets if the next parliament fails to produce results.
"Our move is a continuous process to achieve fundamental reform... We are not optimistic the ruling family and the next government will agree to our demands for change and that's why we will restart protests," Dakheel said.
"Whether the opposition wins or not, we will resume our street protests if we find that the process of comprehensive reforms has not started," Shallahi said.