[Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed]
By Mohammed Al Jumayli
Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed, reappointed Jaber Al-Mubarak as Prime Minister on July 29, following the parliamentary elections on July 27.
Over 300 candidates, including eight women, ran in the election. Political parties are not allowed in Kuwait, so candidates contesting parliamentary elections nominate themselves and run as independents.
Most of the candidates represent various tribes, liberals from the National Democratic Alliance, and Shi’a and Sunni Salafist groups.
The recent elections for Kuwait’s 50-member Parliament were the third to take place in the past year and a half and saw 17 new legislators elected. Tribal candidates maintained their 24-seat strength in the National Assembly, whilst liberals took three seats after boycotting the last elections and Sunni candidates won seven seats, an increase of two. The Shi’a group in the Assembly was reduced to eight seats after winning 17 in December 2012.
Previous parliaments, elected in February and December, had been dissolved by the country’s top court. In December, the Parliament was dissolved as court found that the electoral commission overseeing the polls was illegitimate. However, the court upheld controversial amendments to the electoral law, which reduced the number of candidates each Kuwaiti can vote for from four to one.
The changes sparked violent street protests and prompted the opposition’s boycott of the polls in December 2012, as well as of the elections this year. The participation in these elections was better than last time with an average turnout of 52.5 percent. The election in December 2012 was reported to have the lowest turnout in Kuwaiti electoral history.
Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy and has one of the oldest directly elected parliament among the Arab Gulf states, being first elected in 1963. It is also one of the most powerful. Even though the Prime Minister and the Government are appointed by the Emir, Parliament has the power to veto Government decisions and even dismiss the Prime Minister or any minister. However, the Al Sabah family remains in control of key posts including the premiership and the ministries of defence, interior, and foreign affairs. It also has the final say in policy issues.
The fact that this was the seventh election since 2003 adds to a growing number of problems which Kuwait faces including sluggish infrastructure development and slow economic reforms. This has been reflected in campaigning, with most candidates focusing on local issues such as employment, housing, health care and education.
Roughly two-thirds of Kuwait’s population are foreigners, mostly low-paid workers from Asia, and their treatment is a sensitive issue. In one opinion poll, almost half of respondents said the biggest change they would like to see after the elections is more leniency towards expatriates. Thousands of them have recently been deported from Kuwait due to problems with their visas or residency papers, or as a penalty for traffic offences.