Kuwaiti Opposition Makes Gains in Parliamentary Elections
February 6, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah called snap elections amid protests and a political crisis over corruption allegations after the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah and his government on November 28, 2011. On February 2, Kuwaitis went to the polls and results were released the following day, confirming the gains of the Islamist-led opposition. In Kuwait, formal political parties are banned and individuals form blocs within the 50-seat National Assembly. Reuters reported that 287 candidates competed for the seats in the fourth parliamentary election held in the last six years. Kuwait’s parliament has the most powers of any elected body in the Gulf, despite the royal family’s full control to appoint key government officials and executive posts.
Reuters journalists interviewed Kuwaitis at the polls on February 2. Many voters were focused on candidates who promised to create jobs and further develop the country and economy. Candidates set up tents and offered voters food while making pledges that appealed to different groups. Some promised to lift the ban on alcohol and others promised to better realign Kuwaiti society with Islam. According to Al-Rai daily, quoting MP Waleed Al-Tabtabaei, some candidates distributed cash to voters in an attempt to buy votes. Practices like these explain why some citizens are skeptical and think the issue of corruption runs deep and that the parliament will not push through more meaningful constitutional reforms as long as the Sabah family is in power.
According to the BCC, opposition candidates (including 23 Sunni Islamists) won 34 seats. A total of 20 tribal-based candidates won seats. Liberals won nine seats, but none of the winning candidates were women. This is a setback considering that four women were elected to the previous parliament. Furthermore, 14 of the Islamist candidates are ultra-conservative Salafists. The Shiite minority, which generally supports the Sabah family to maintain its protected status, took seven seats. Overall, this parliament is significantly more conservative than the previous one. Analysts believe the parliament will not finish its four-year term due to the extreme differences between the candidates’ positions. According to Gulf News, in a post-elections statement, MP Marzouq Al Ganem, the only National Action Bloc member left with a seat, said: “I can tell you that this extremist parliament will not last.”
The parliament is set to convene on February 15. The Kuwait Times states that the contest for the speakership of the Assembly has already begun. So far, three-time former speaker Ahmad Al-Saadoun seems to have significant support. Several MPs will challenge him though, including a pro-government MP, a veteran Shiite MP, and a liberal MP. The Arab Times reported that the upcoming parliament will likely have to deal with the issue of Bedouns (stateless persons). In Kuwait, some 100,000 or more residents are considered stateless persons of various origins. Some are from neighboring countries that came generations ago and others may be native Kuwaitis who did not fill out proper citizenship paperwork prior to the 1920s. The Kuwaiti courts ruled in 2011 that Bedoun have the right to birth, marriage and death certificates but they are not considered full citizens and thus cannot vote. MP Mohammad Al-Khalifa wishes to improve the image of Kuwait in the international community, especially through the eyes of human rights organizations.
BBC - Kuwait election: Islamist-led opposition makes gains
Kuwait Times - ‘Cabinet should understand Kuwaiti people’s message’ – Tough time ahead for foul players
Reuters - Kuwait opposition seen making gains in snap election
Gulf News - Kuwait’s parliament to convene on February 15
Arab Times - ‘New PM Must Be Loyal, Appoint Skillful Ministers’