Sunday 2 October 2022 - 11:17

Analyzing Kuwait’s Parliamentary Elections

Story Code : 1017254
Analyzing Kuwait’s Parliamentary Elections
According to Arab media outlets, the election was well received and more than 70 percent of the eligible people participated, which resulted in a significant change in the composition of the candidates making their way to the parliament. The media reported a 54 percent change compared to the previous parliament, including 15 candidates who had no prior representation experience. 

The results brought another surprise and that was the victory of two candidates who are in the central prison, one serving a two-year term and the other in custody. 

Kuwait has been struggling with the crisis of unstable governments and repeated dissolution of parliament caused by disputes between the government and the lawmakers over the economic reforms and decline to pass the annual budget. Under the late Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the parliament was dissolved six times, the last one in 2016. This year's dissolution is the first since the new Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah took over in September 2020. 

The previous government headed by Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Hamad resigned on April 5 following the refusal of the parliamentary impeachment order, which he considered a disruption of the work of the government, and after that, Sheikh Nawaf ordered the formation of a new government headed by Ahmad Al-Nawaf and holding new parliamentary elections. 

According to the Kuwaiti law, in the event of a decision to dissolve the National Assembly, new elections will be held within a maximum of two months since the dissolution. 

Partyless parliament 

The National Assembly of Kuwait was founded in 1963, two years after foundation of the country, making it the oldest Persian Gulf Arab legislature. 

The parliament term is four-year and candidates from five constituencies are elected for representation. 10 members are elected from each constituency and each voter has the right to vote for only one candidate. Each voter had the right to vote for four candidates until the end of 2012, the year the election law was amended. 

The parliament has the power to legislate with the ratification of the emir, and it also has the power to dismiss the prime minister and ministers. According to the constitution, ministers who are not elected from among the members of the parliament are considered members of the parliament by virtue of their position, provided that their number does not exceed one third of the number of members of the parliament. 

Citizens over 21 years old have the right to vote and run for election. Military personnel, with the exception of members of the National Guard, have no voting right. This voting system has led to the fact that parliamentary commissions are not formed in Kuwait in their usual sense as in other countries. Parliamentary blocs are mainly formed in the parliamentary lobbies, which have short-term political goals and thus may break up in any situation, like the opposition blocs in the 2012 parliament or the 9-person bloc in the 2020 one. Also, political parties outside the parliament do not exist in Kuwait. 

Elections in the midst of political crisis 

The new early elections in Kuwait took place as the governance in the country has been suffering from a political crisis for years and political gaps among the political elites and between the people and government have been deepening. 

Like its Persian Gulf neighbors, Kuwait seeks to diversify its economy and dispose of oil income reliance. But bureaucracy, corruption, and lack of effective planning for economic progress make any government in the country struggling with great economic problems. 

The failure of predominantly shaky governments to carry out the political and economic reforms eyed by public and opposition groups is the outcome of the continuation of the political crisis in small Arab monarchy. 

The formation of cabinets in Kuwait is based on tribal and sectarian quota and thus political lobbying is determining in the political process. The heads of cabinet are mainly royal family members who have struggles with the parliament. Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, who led seven cabinets as PM despite his uneasy ties with the parliament, made the relationship between the government and parliament ever-tense, darkening the prospects of a common operational plan for reforms demanded by people. 

As a result of these disputes, almost all of the parliaments in which the opposition holds the majority collapsed before their legal term ended. Among them, only 7 parliaments finished their terms, which was often due to the following reasons: 1- The weak presence of the opposition in them because of boycott of the elections 2- The ability of the government to gain the favor of the lawmakers by granting posts and gifts to them 3- The dispersal of the opposition, which is likely by the single-vote system. 

A 2017 parliamentary research found that 79 percent of the state workers have disguised unemployment. This is while 85 percent of the employed population are state workers and only 15 percent are employed by the private sector. One sign of the credibility of these data is visible in the way the national budget is spent. 71 percent of the 2021-2022 budget was paid for salaries and subsidies. 

Because of this situation, various Kuwaiti governments are caught in a vicious circle which distances them from capability to make reforms to alleviate the budget deficit that is now $35.5 billion, the highest in the country's history. Kuwait budget is 90 percent dependent on the oil revenues, the second after Iraq in West Asia. 

Shiites set new records 

Reports suggest that the Shiite groups by winning 10 seats made a splashy and unprecedented gain. In 2020 elections, they won 6 seats. 

National Islamic Coalition, a Shiite bloc, made a real surprise by sending three out of four candidates to the parliament. Also, the Shiite Justice and Peace Society secured two seats. 

Ahmad Abdulaziz Saadun, the former parliament speaker, won the highest votes in the third constituency, raising his chance for retaking the post. 

The high turnout rate that changed 54 percent of the parliament composition and brought forth younger figures carries the message that the Kuwaitis find elections a means of change and protest.