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Kuwaiti MPs push for ‘natives’ electoral law

Move would require parliament candidates to prove their roots in country before 1920

  • By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief
  • Published: 13:46 January 21, 2013
  • Gulf News

Manama: Five Kuwaiti lawmakers have waded into controversy after they submitted a draft for an electoral law amendment which proposes new patrilinear conditions for candidates contesting parliamentary elections.

According to Kuwaiti media the draft’s gist is that only “native Kuwaitis, descendants of fathers who settled in Kuwait before 1920, be allowed to contest in parliamentary elections”.

The draft, submitted on Sunday with the signatures of MPs Abdul Hamid Dashti, Hussain Al Qallaf, Nabeel Al Fadl, Safa Al Hashem, and Nasser Al Shammari, is being seen in some quarters as an attempt to sideline potential candidates from tribal groups, which form a large segment of Kuwaiti society. Most of the tribal groups trace their ancestry to men who settled in Kuwait in the second half of the 20th century and hence, under the controversial proposal, most candidates from these groups would be disqualified from contesting parliamentary elections.

The draft promptly drew condemnation from many Kuwaitis as “discriminatory” and “unacceptable”. Commenting on the move, many citizens insisted that the need of the hour was to reinforce national unity and to ensure that it was not eroded by “narrow self-serving interests.”

Al Shammari, meanwhile, said he was withdrawing his signature from the draft, claiming that he had been deceived.

“I was on my way to a committee meeting when MP Dashti asked me to sign the law draft to amend the electoral law,” Al Shammari said. “He tricked me into signing it after assuring me that there was no racist aspect or dimension in the draft. Therefore, I will withdraw my signature from the racist draft that targets tribes,” he said.

The proposed amendment is the latest sign of growing social divisions between members of families that trace back their lineage a fair way, most of whom are settled in the urban areas, and those Kuwaitis who live in the outlying areas whose families are among those that have settled in the country more recently.

Tribes have traditionally supported the ruling elite, but as their numbers increased and their educational levels rose, they started demanding greater social recognition, and more political power, eventually drifting towards the opposition.

A decision by the government in summer to amend the 2006 electoral law and slash the number of candidates a voter could elect from four to one was seen as an attempt to curb the influence of the tribes, particularly after they fared well in the February elections and formed a robust alliance in the parliament with Islamists.

But a decision in June by the Supreme Court to annul the elections based on the unconstitutionality of the decree that set the stage for the vote led to a fresh election in which the opposition refused to take part.

However, despite the boycott calls, the elections were held on December 1 and the opposition, left to lick its wounds, pledged to bring down the legislative house through street pressure, staging rallies and demonstrations that often resulted in clashes.

On Sunday, members of the opposition said that their new tactic against the government would include soliciting help from Western parliaments and international organisations, a decision that was condemned by current lawmakers.

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