KUWAIT Kuwait, parliamentary elections between balances of power and economic reforms

The vote to elect the 50 deputies of the Majlis al-Umma will take place tomorrow. There are 376 candidates and 27 are women (absent in the last legislature). The assembly has enormous powers, such as passing and blocking laws, questioning ministers, and casting votes of no confidence against high-ranking officials.

Kuwait City () – The beginning of a new era in the balance of power between the executive and the legislature. Under this auspices, parliamentary elections will be held tomorrow in Kuwait, which come after months of tensions between opposing fronts and only two years of legislature. However, what will determine the new balance will be the result of the vote and the relations established with the new leadership of the government, with the hope of shelving the last year of “extreme conflict.” The clashes ended on June 22 with the intervention of Crown Prince Meshal al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah who, speaking on behalf of Emir Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah, dissolved the Assembly and opened the way for elections.

The previous parliament was paralyzed by conflicts and polarization between allies of former Prime Minister Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah and former Assembly Speaker Marzouq al-Ghanem, who were fiercely at odds with their opponents. The fracture culminated in March with a motion of censure against the head of government promoted by three deputies that forced him to resign. For his part, the emir took more than a month to appoint a successor, leaving a power vacuum and the National Assembly suspended. To end the deadlock, on June 14, a dozen parliamentarians promoted a sit-in that received the support of most political groups and civil society. A week later, the crown prince intervened on behalf of the emir, accepting the demands of the “rioters”.

The process to register the 376 candidates – including 27 women – concluded on September 7. The country hopes for greater collaboration between the two authorities and between the executive and the legislature, in order to address and resolve pending issues, in particular economic reforms and the fight against corruption. One of the questions raised, taking into account the events that have occurred in the region (read Iran and the death of Mahsa Amini), is the role of women in society.

The problems flared up again as a result of news related to gender violence: in a video you can see a man beating his wife in public, because he would have found a job without “asking for permission”. The attack has had great resonance on social media and is just the latest in a long series of abuses. That is the reason for the renewed interest in female representation in the political, social and economic life of the country. Kuwait was the first country in the Gulf to open the doors of Parliament to women, 17 years ago, but in the last legislature it had none.

The emirate is governed by a constitutional monarchy, with a parliamentary system of government that is also the oldest in the Gulf and wields enormous powers, including passing and blocking laws, questioning ministers and filing no-confidence motions against senior officials. The Majlis al-Umma has 50 members who are elected every four years, can remove the prime minister or other ministers, and also confirms the appointment of the crown prince and the emir, whose throne is hereditary. But the political line remains conservative.

Kuwait has a population of about 4.4 million, most of whom are foreign workers who do not have the right to vote and are unlikely to gain citizenship. The first Parliament was elected in 1963, two years after independence from the United Kingdom on June 19, 1961. The emirate, the first Arab nation to adopt a Constitution in 1962, is characterized by extreme political instability that, in fact, has slowed down their economic development. Kuwait is among the top exporters of oil (accounting for 90% of revenue), but frequent corruption cases and clashes between parliament and government have resulted in long periods of political stagnation.

In an extensive analysis ahead of the vote, experts from the Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute point out that, when it comes to debating “government programs”, “there are many more points of discrepancy than agreement between the deputies” . The individualism and independent deputies that have dominated the political scene since the 1962 Constitution are elements that seem “destined to continue in these elections.” Unless there is a drastic change, it is unlikely -concludes the reflection- that a government will emerge with a reformist agenda, elaborated and supported by the majority in the National Assembly”.

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Written by Editor TLN

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