Kuwait badly needs a sustained period of constructive parliamentary government, when the parliament is able to work with the cabinet and government to take the essential initiatives that good governance requires. The bitter divide between Islamist and loyalist MPs has crippled long-term strategic governance and there have been more than a dozen cabinets since May 2006.
Today’s parliamentary elections will happen under new rules put forward by the Ruler, under which, each voter gets only one vote, rather than the previous system where each person had four votes. This change was approved by the Constitutional Court, but it has left the country bitterly divided and it may affect the popular legitimacy of the incoming parliament. Major opposition groups are already boycotting the vote and many analysts do not expect the elections to bring political stability to the country. The opposition is also furious over the authorities’ crackdown on protesters and what are seen as unduly severe prison sentences on social media activists. This week’s elections were challenged by a private petition based on a technicality, which was rightly dismissed two days ago when the Constitutional Court ruled that the parliamentary elections due today should go ahead, following the dissolution of the previous parliament by the Court in June. Any genuine challenge to the elections should have been mounted months ago before the candidates started to campaign and people started to decide on their likely favourites.
As ever in Kuwait, despite the partial boycott, the elections are being raucously and vigorously debated, as more than 300 candidates compete for 50 seats and many other candidates have rushed to the courts to clear their names in order to contest. Kuwait’s parliament is the longest established in the GCC and has a special place in Gulf history as where the most open political debates happen. But for many years, it has failed to operate constructively, taking the country into continual constitutional crisis, which has damaged the ability of the state to deal with the problems it faces.