All you need to know about Kuwait’s parliament elections

Voters head to the polls on Saturday to choose 50 lawmakers from an array of liberal, conservative and tribal candidates

Image Credit: AFP
A Kuwaiti man displays a pamphlet as he attends a campaign meeting of female candidate Gadeer Aserei in Kuwait City ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.
Gulf News

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwaiti men and women head to the polls today (Saturday, 26/11/2016) to elect 50 new lawmakers for the next four years through a simple majority vote. The parliament also includes 15 ex-officio members who are appointed by the prime minister.

The elections were originally scheduled for June 2017, the end of the four-year term of the parliament elected in July 2013. However, as the Emir dissolved the parliament in October and, consequently, new elections had to be held earlier.

How does the voting process work?

Kuwait is divided into five electoral districts with varying electorate sizes. The top ten achievers in each of the districts become the lawmakers.

The process started with the registration of the candidates that stretched from October 19 until October 28. Candidates had to be at least 30 years old and were required to be fluent in written and spoken Arabic, and with no criminal history.

Hopefuls had to pay a 50 Kuwaiti Dinars fee for registration.

How many are eligible to vote?

Slightly more than 483,000 Kuwaiti men and women are registered to cast their ballots on Election Day.

According to a study prepared by Al Qabas daily, tribal voters constitute 53.1 per cent of the total number of people eligible to cast ballots, while urban voters are 46.9 per cent.

The tribal vote is very critical and some tribal leaders have cautioned their members against voting for someone not supported by the tribe.

Al Awazem (Al Azmi) tribe leads in numbers with 45,250 voters, mainly in the first and fifth districts.

Al Mutairi tribe follows with 40,040 voters who will cast their ballots mainly in the fourth and fifth districts.

The study by Al Qabas also concluded that the percentage of Sunni voters is 86 per cent, compared with 14 per cent Shias.

How many women are running?

Fifteen women will be running in the elections. The figure is among the lowest recorded since women were given in 2005 the right to vote and run in national elections.

In their first attempt in 2006 to win seats in the parliament, 28 women signed up their names. The women represented 11.1% of the candidates. Although no woman won, the breakthrough did take place and removed a psychological obstacle.

In the next elections in 2008, the enthusiasm remained intact and 27 women registered to run. Once more, no woman was able to secure a seat.

In 2009, the much-anticipated sight of women as lawmakers became a reality when four of the 16 women candidates won seats, making history in the country.

In February 2012, a strong alliance between Islamists and tribal figures resulted in none of the 23 women candidates winning seats. However, in the December 2012 polls, three of the 15 women candidates carried seats.

In 2013, the number of women candidates dwindled to eight, but one woman was able to win a seat.

Past parliaments and why they were dissolved

Kuwait has had 15 parliaments since its independence in 1961. Only six parliaments ran their terms for the four years, while nine parliaments were dissolved for various reasons.

The first dissolution occurred on August 29, 1976 upon an Emiri order issued by Shaikh Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah following sharp disagreements between the government and lawmakers. The parliament was stalled until 1981.

The second parliament was dissolved on July 3, 1986 following “deep divisions and threats to national unity.” Kuwait remained without a parliament until elections were held in October 1992.

The third dissolving occurred on May 4, 1999 on the grounds of “abuses of parliamentary tools and the selection of tension and confrontations over positive dialogues.”

The fourth parliament elected on July 5, 2003 was dissolved on May 21, 2006 following “deep divisions, mutual accusations and damages to the country’s higher interests.”

The fifth dissolving was on March 19, 2008 as a result of clashes between the legislative and executive branches.

One year later, on March 18, 2009, the parliament was dissolved for the sixth time, with the decree citing “non-compliance with the constitution and the laws.”

The seventh dissolving was on December 6, 2011 after parliamentary life was hit by a severe political crisis that “stalled achievements and threatened the country’s higher interests.”

Elections were held on February 4, 2012 and the opposition, mainly an Islamist-tribal coalition, won 34 of the 50 seats while the women lost their seats. However, the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, rejected them, dissolved the newly-elected parliament and reinstated the parliament elected in 2009. However, the reinstated parliament failed to convene for lack of the required quota.

The eighth dissolving was on October 7, 2012 as a consequence of the failure of the lawmakers to show up at the sessions and reach the required quota.

The ninth time a parliament was dissolved was on October 16, 2016.

Key issues

The major issues addressed during the campaigns give a strong déjà vu impression and the run-up to the national polls is not at its core different from past elections in the country.

Candidates have been switching in their statements between sharply criticizing the outgoing parliament and making pledges to fix all past failures and weaknesses.

Even though the decision to lower subsidies and hike oil prices was seemingly very unpopular and prompted backlash by Kuwaitis, economic issues and suggested solutions were rarely mentioned in the speeches.

Equally absent was the foreign policy. The candidates who ventured outside the comfort zone of populist claims and pledges, mainly Islamists, focused on threats from Iran.

Most candidates referred to programmes that were viewed as lacking realism or realistic measures to carry them out.

Tribal leaders exerted strong moral pressure on the tribe members to shun their own choices and vote for the candidates selected by the tribal council.

Women sought desperate support from a society that has often opted to ignore them.

Candidates

Kuwait’s elections will see a curious amalgam of liberal, tribal and conservatives who will be vying for the 50 seats.

Many of the candidates, 79, are former lawmakers either in the outgoing parliament or in previously dissolved legislative assemblies.

There are also newcomers who, fearful about where the country’s previous lawmakers were leading it, believe they can accomplish achievements in areas where others failed.

Opposition figures, up to 30 candidates, who boycotted the 2013 elections to protest against the “one person, one vote” system will be running again, arguing that they needed to step in to control the damage caused by the parliament dissolved last month.

Some candidates are openly challenging the government to reduce its generous care for foreigners and calling on it, for example, to stop providing healthcare for expatriates at public hospitals and replace it with a health insurance scheme.

Women will be seeking to improve their parliament record and secure voices that will boost their political empowerment within the conservative society.

Liberals believe that the years of conservatism have held back Kuwait’s progress and they say they want to address the situation and make the country shine at all levels again.

Prominent candidates in the first district include Saleh Ashour, Abdullah Al Turaiji, Eisa Al Kandari, Adnan Abdul Samad, Mubarak Al Harees, Ahmad Al Mulaifi, Adel Al Damkhi, Osama Al Shaheen, Hussain Al-Qallaf, and his brother Fakher Al Qallaf.

In the second district, major candidates are outgoing Speaker Marzouq Al Ghanem, Ahmad Lari, Rakan Al Nasef, Khalaf Dumaitheer, Ahmad Baqer, Fahad Al Khannah, Jamaan Al Harbash and Hamad Al Matar.

In the third district, candidates to watch include Jamal Al Omar, Yaqoub Al Sane, Roudhan Al Roudhan, Khalil Abul, Waleed Al Tabtabaei, Ammar AlAjmi, and Shaye Al Shaye.

The fourth district, the main contestants will be Askar Al Enezi, Mubarak Al Khrainej, Mohammad Tana, Osama Al Munawer, Shuaib Al Muwaizri and Mohammad Hayef.

Prominent candidates in the fifth district are Hamdan Al Azemi, Mohammad Al Huwailah, and Nayef Al Merdas.

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