Kuwait goes to the polls amid power games and economic reforms
Kuwaitis will pick the 50 members of Majlis al-Umma. Some 376 candidates are running, including 27 women (absent in the last legislature). The assembly has wide powers, including passing and blocking laws, holding ministers to account, and presenting votes of no confidence against senior officials.
Kuwait City (AsiaNews) – A new era will begin in Kuwait as the balance of power between government and parliament will likely change tomorrow when the country goes to the polls after months of tensions between opposing camps only two years since the last election.
The result will determine the new relationship with the government, hopefully ending a year of extreme confrontation.
Tensions were such that on 22 June, Crown Prince Meshal al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, on behalf of Emir Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah, dissolved the Majlis al-Umma or National Assembly paving the way for elections.
The outgoing parliament was paralysed by conflicts between the allies of former Prime Minister Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah and those of former Assembly Speaker Marzouq al-Ghanem.
This culminated in March with a vote of no confidence tabled by three MPs against the prime minister. However, the emir did not name any successor for over a month, effectively suspending the National Assembly.
To break the stalemate, on 14 June a dozen parliamentarians began a sit-in backed by other lawmakers, political groups, and civil society organisations. A week later, the crown prince intervened on behalf of the emir and accepted the requests of the "rebels".
Candidates had time until 7 September to file their papers.
Among Kuwaitis, there is great hope that the government and parliament will work together to deal with important pending issues, in particular economic reforms and corruption.
The role of women in society also played a prominent role in the election, especially in light of wider regional events (i.e. Iran and the death of Mahsa Amini).
Domestic violence and gender-based violence began to trend on social media after a video was posted online showing a man beating his wife in public because she found a job without his permission. And this was not the first case of this kind.
Among voters, this sparked renewed interest in women's place in the country’s political, social and economic life. The first Gulf nation elected women to Parliament 17 years ago, although none was voted into office last time.
The emirate is ruled by a constitutional monarchy, with a parliamentary form of government, the oldest in the Gulf, with broad powers, including passing laws and blocking bills, holding ministers to account, and presenting no-confidence votes against senior officials.
The Majlis al-Umma’s 50 members are elected every four years. They can remove the prime minister and cabinet ministers, confirm the nominees named by the crown prince and the emir. The latter’s throne is hereditary. Overall, political life remains conservative.
Kuwait has a population of about 4.4 million people, most of them foreigners, without the right to vote. Hardly any can obtain Kuwaiti citizenship.
The first parliament was elected in 1963, two years after independence from the United Kingdom on 19 June 1961.
However, the emirate, the first Arab country to adopt a constitution in 1962, remains very unstable, which has slowed down economic development;
Kuwait is a major oil producer (90 per cent of the government budget), and corruption is a major issue. Clashes between the executive and legislative branches have led to political stalemates.
In a long pre-election study, the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington noted that, “When it comes to governing programs, members of parliament disagree on more than they agree.”
In fact, since the first constitution (1962), independent MPs and individualism have dominated the legislature, a situation that appears “destined to continue” after this election.
Unless some major change occurs, the next government it is not likely to pursue a reform agenda backed by a majority in the National Assembly.