Kuwait Elections and the Desired Stability

Dr. Bechara Charbel: Kuwait Elections and the Desired Stability

  • 13 December 2012

Fresh parliamentary elections were held in Kuwait on December 1, 2012, which were boycotted by some groups as major political controversy gripped the country recently.

Earlier, the Constitutional Court had dissolved the 2012 parliament and reinstated the 2009 parliament. A decree by the Amir of Kuwait subsequently overturned the court’s decision to restore the 2009 parliament and ordered fresh elections. These events strained relations between previous parliaments and governments, thus souring the political atmosphere, affecting development programs and creating the impression that Kuwait suffers from a structural imbalance in its political system, which raised concerns at various levels of authority and within the political community. However, these elections were held in the backdrop of political dissension and growing social polarization when members of the previous parliamentary majority (35 MPs out of 50), along with political powers and other important personalities, expressed reservations on the decree to amend the electoral law that reduces the number of votes allowed to each voter from four to one. Critics of the move say that this deprives the majority of its share, prevents the formation of political blocs, causes vote fragmentation, and is likely to bring back contentious elements with narrow doctrinal, tribal and sub-tribal orientation.

Thus, opponents of the ‘one vote’ electoral reforms waged a fierce campaign before the elections by holding demonstrations that led to clashes and arrests. However, whether these reforms produce the desired outcome after the elections has itself become a matter of debate, particularly on the issue of achieving legislative stability and on the return of the previous MPs to parliament.

In addition, both the government and other groups were hoping for a huge turnout in the elections. However, the turnout was low and stood at 38.7 percent, in stark contrast to 58.8 percent in the previous elections. This clearly did not allow the government and other groups to celebrate the outcome as a major victory, nor did it allow the proponents of the boycott to claim outright success.

In fact, all that the boycott achieved was to strip the parliament of its large political blocs that have substantial public standing and even a historical political presence that is difficult to replace by equally influential rival powers in parliament. Among the notable absentees from the list of winners after these elections are some prominent tribal blocs (which have now been replaced by relatively minor ones); the long-established ‘Islamic Constitutional Movement’ (with supposed ideological affiliations with Muslim Brotherhood), a large segment of Salafis and liberals. These absentees have paved the way for MPs or parliamentary groups who serve largely with the aim of winning the next elections.

The complete absence of representatives from Al-Mutair tribe (one of the largest communities in Kuwait) and Al-Awazem tribe (considered highly influential in Kuwait’s politics), is conspicuously noticeable. The leaders of the two tribes had boycotted the elections. This move resulted in new complications?, for example one MP from a tribal constituency won by a margin of only 500 votes. Such a narrow margin does not give a member of parliament the legitimacy to speak in the name of people and exercise legislative powers, even if it has secured him a seat in parliament. More importantly, Shiite candidates benefitted from this boycott. They were able to win 17 parliamentary seats, a huge increase over their past performances that never gave them more than nine seats.

Although there is no legal issue in the right of Shiites to be represented by as much as the ballot boxes allow them to, the question pertains to political appropriateness of the representation and the issue of harmony within the context of the GCC, especially in relation to current issues with Iran, Bahrain and the situation in Syria.

Thus, Kuwait Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak formed his fourth government, hoping for close cooperation with a parliament that does not drag him into interrogations — like those that former Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammad faced and which eventually led to his leaving the high office.

There are expectations that the new parliament would build a consensus between government and parliament that leads to the issuance of important investment-related laws to push the wheels of development forward and implement projects of the five-year plan.

Optimists hope for continued cooperation that would weaken the opposition and hold it responsible for the country’s previous crises. As for the opposition, it has started to review its position without changing the aim of targeting the continuity of the parliament. They are also betting on supposed differences between the elected MPs, except for the Shiite bloc, whose cohesion may appear to be against them. Moreover, the opposition is relying on supporting the action of the youth.

It is too early to predict how the political situation in Kuwait will unfold. However, differences between the government and opposition persist. Each party seeks a way to object and attain its goals. Although there is no challenge to security and stability, achieving political stability remains a primary concern. An in-depth examination of the current situation is needed and new formulas for reform need to be devised, which emanate from a comprehensive, national dialogue between all parties to preserve the country’s achievements, which go beyond merely disagreeing on an electoral law or voter turnout.

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