KUWAIT CITY -- Opposition candidates, many of them tied to conservative Islamic groups and all of whom have called for increased democratic rights, won a substantial majority in Kuwait's first parliamentary elections in six years.
The opposition walked away with an unexpected 31 of the 50 National Assembly posts, according to vote figures released by the Interior Ministry yesterday.
Islamic candidates took 19 seats, more than doubling the nine seats they won in the 1985 parliamentary elections, but infighting between the religious groups makes it doubtful that they will function as a unified bloc.
While most voters and all candidates said they wanted Emir Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah to remain as head of state, they were frustrated with the secrecy and autocratic style of the ruling family.
Opposition candidates have called for investigations into the government's handling of the country's vast oil revenues and an inquiry into relations with Iraq before the invasion in 1990. They also want to establish independent branches of government that are free of control by the ruling al-Sabah family.
"This is a great success for the opposition," said a newly elected legislator, Hamed al-Jouan. "This will be the first parliament in Kuwait's history in which the majority will come from the opposition. It is a clear call for change. The result indicates that most Kuwaitis think that the government has not done a good job ruling the country."
The emir is scheduled to dissolve the current Cabinet today. He is not required by law to consult with the parliament, although he is required to appoint at least one member of parliament to the Cabinet.
Western diplomats said they would be surprised if the Cabinet was limited to only one or two opposition figures.
"If they do not give us a majority, then I don't know how they will govern," Mr. al-Jouan said. "The governing process will be deadlocked."
The sharpest power struggle is likely to come over the managing of the country's vast oil revenues. A series of financial scandals, including the loss this year of $7 billion in a Spanish holding company, has angered many Kuwaitis who are not informed about how public money is spent or invested.
"Politics in Kuwait is about money, and money is about politics," said one high-ranking Western diplomat. "What is Kuwait? Kuwait is an oil-producing nation with huge revenues and a small population. The question is: Who is going to decide how to use the money?"
Younger candidates, many of them with university degrees, won out in the 15 tribal areas over elders who have in the past dominated the outlying districts' political life.
The tribal areas provided most of the government's 19 supporters. The 11 major tribes in the outlying areas are the ruling family's closest allies, often making agreements and deals with the al-Sabah family outside the governmental channels.
The Islamic candidates were jubilant at the 19 seats they won.
"The result is what Kuwait needs," said the newly elected Islamic National Alliance and Shiite leader, Adnan Sayed Abdul Samad Sayed Zaher. "We will examine the causes and results of the Aug. 2 invasion. And we believe it will be possible to change the constitution to make Islamic law the sole source for legislation."
Most of the secular and religious opposition agree that the government needs to be more accountable to the public and that elected representatives should have more of a say in the daily affairs of state.
The parliament is scheduled to review all laws and decrees passed by the emir since the suspension of the last parliament six years ago.