Amended Kuwait electoral law proves beneficial

‘One person, one vote’ has shattered the influence of large tribal coalitions and levelled the playing field

Image Credit: Al Rai
Prime Minister Shaikh Jaber Al Mubarak Al Hamad Al Sabah (R) submits the government’s resignation to the Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah on Monday.
Gulf News

Manama: Kuwait’s “one person, one vote” law, in its first real test following the end of the boycott by the opposition, has proven its benefits in levelling the field for all candidates, empowering young people to enter the parliament, shattering the influence of large electoral coalitions and reducing the overinflated ability of tribes and sects to secure seats beyond their proportion.

In July 2006 and in a reform of the electoral law, the number of electoral districts in Kuwait was reduced from 25 to five with the top ten candidates winning per district, resulting in the election of 50 lawmakers.

The law also introduced a system of four votes per person.

The “four votes per person” reform was beneficial to the tribes who used the system to agree on preferred candidates and coordinate among themselves.

Any coalition of tribes meant equal support to their preferred candidates and a mutually beneficial competitive edge over independents who, in the absence of political parties, have no organised structure to offset the flagrant imbalance assist them.

The four vote system was largely used by the opposition coalition of tribes and Islamists in the February 2012 elections that enabled them to secure 34 of the 50 seats.

However, the new amendment of the electoral law in 2012 slashed the number of candidates a voter could choose from four to one.

The opposition said that the change was meant to reduce its power while the government argued that the system was more in line with international standards.

The opposition boycotted the December 2012 elections, took its case to the Constitutional Court, but lost.

Some opposition figures accept the ruling and reversed their boycott, taking part in the July 2013 elections, while most of the opposition stayed away.

However, with the call for new elections on November 26, most opposition figures, aware that staying out of the parliament would not help them influence politics in the country, decided to end their boycott and join in the contest.

The results late on Saturday showed the potential and significance of the “one person, one vote” system on tribes, Islamists and the independents.

Al Awazem and Al Mutairi, the two leading tribes in the fourth and fifth districts that had been their bastillions for several years, fared poorly, winning only one seat each.

Al Awazem tribe maintained its two seats in the first district, but lost its greatly influential role in the fifth district where it had invariably won three seats.

With 13 candidates from the tribe, the votes were widely dispersed even though consultations among the tribe leaders agreed on four front-runners.

Several members of the Al Mutair tribe expressed their anger on social media accounts and attributed their dismal performance to “divergences, obstinacy, jealousy and greed that prevented candidates from reaching a deal,” Kuwaiti daily Al Rai reported on Monday.

The Al Mutair tribe had the same issue in the fourth district where their 29,000 ballots were cast on 26 candidates, resulting in an end to their domination, winning only one seat instead of the three or four they had carried since 2006.

The only consolation for the tribe is the seat won by Majed Al Mutairi in the fifth district.

Salafis fared poorly and were unable to assert themselves while the Shiite Bloc was reduced from nine to six.

The bloc could secure only four seats in the first district where it often had seven, lost a seat in the second district and another in the fifth district, ending up with only six lawmakers.

At the other end of the spectrum, Al Jahra which had often felt underrepresented was able to secure five seats in the fourth district, leading to nightlong jubilations.

Observers said that Al Jahra took full advantage of the new voting system and calibrated its tactics to win seats.

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