More than half a million citizens will vote in Kuwait’s 18th parliamentary polls on Saturday to elect the 50 members of the National Assembly many Kuwaitis hope will set the stage for substantial economic and social reforms and work with the upcoming government to address the coronavirus pandemic fallouts.
This election, the first under the new Emir, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmed Al Sabah, is being held in unusual circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to adverse economic realities as oil prices plunged to their lowest prices in years.
The two pressing issues facing the parliament — which most of the 326 candidates, including 29 women, have highlighted in their campaigns — are the economic and social reforms, including the much needed legislations to diversify the economy, uproot corruption, and offer solutions to the endemic dependence on foreign labour in public and private sector.
The government will resign on Sunday as per the constitution and a new government is expected to be appointed next week. The new assembly and government will be faced with the harsh reality of the pandemic disruption, especially the decline of revenues and possible exhaustion of liquidity.
In September, Moody’s, the major credit agency, downgraded Kuwait’s debt rating for the first time and sounded the alarm that its “liquid resources are nearing depletion.” The agency said Kuwait was drawing from its reserve fund to keep spending at a pace that could prove unsustainable, which could weaken the country’s financial strength in the years ahead in the absence of a parliamentary authorisation to enact a debt law. The law is expected to be a top issue in the upcoming term.
In October, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected that Kuwait’s economy would shrink by 8.1 per cent in 2020, down from a previous April forecast of a 1.1 per cent contraction, mainly on the worsening outlook for oil prices.
Without sound applicable plans to diversify the economy to end the no-longer sustainable dependency on oil revenues, Kuwait will find it difficult to keep subsidising essential services.
Another issue the new parliament is expected to focus on is social reforms that would offer permanent solution to the decades-long issue of stateless Bidouins and also the country’s dependency on foreign labour. The previous assembly failed to reach consensus on those issues due to the wide gaps between opposing proposals.
Nevertheless, holding this election under such challenging conditions is a testament to Kuwait’s commitment to its democratic principles, enshrined in the 1962 constitution. Kuwaitis hope that the new parliament will work hand in hand with the government to address national issues without the political infighting that seemed to have paralysed the country’s development plans for years.