Copy of 2024-04-05T101154Z_1122054106_RC2MZ6AKF3JP_RTRMADP_3_KUWAIT-POLITICS-ELECTION-1712553214567
A Kuwaiti citizen drops his ballot into a transparent box after voting to elect new candidates for members of Parliament, in Kuwait City, Kuwait, April 4, 2024 Image Credit: Reuters

Kuwaiti voters, both men and women, recently voted in an electoral tradition spanning over sixty years, during which the country witnessed a series of successes and failures unique to Kuwait’s political landscape. This journey, like any electoral campaign, intertwines collective enthusiasm with moments of sober reflection.

In recent weeks, Kuwait has been immersed in the fervour of election campaigning, a phenomenon not unique to this nation. Yet, there exists a prevailing sentiment, expressed both openly and tacitly, that the electoral process requires recalibration. Many feel that the trajectory of progress is faltering, a reality that no patriot would willingly accept for their homeland.

A stark example of this perceived deviation is evident in the rise of ministerial interpellations. From the inception of parliamentary governance in Kuwait until the Iraqi occupation in 1990, only 14 interpellations were recorded. However, since the parliament’s reinstatement after liberation, the number has surged to 134 interpellations until last year — an average of five per year.

In the Kuwaiti context, interpellation often signifies a disruption to governmental operations and is frequently associated with pressures stemming from or leading to corruption, with corruption being understood here as the misuse of power for personal gain. Such actions typically push the state towards inefficiency and can even result in ministerial resignations.

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Sentiments of a majority

The concerns surrounding Kuwait’s electoral process and governance issues resonate beyond its borders, attracting the attention of international entities invested in global democratic practices. For example, the American Journal of Democracy, which has been analysing democratic trends worldwide since the early 21st century, recently featured an article in its March 2024 issue provocatively titled “Will Kuwait’s Next Parliament Be Its Last?”

Despite its potentially contentious headline, the magazine has aptly highlighted the underlying grievances shared by many Kuwaiti citizens. The recurrent dissolution of elected councils represents an unhealthy phenomenon, as articulated by the publication.

The Journal delineates several manifestations that bolster its assertion, chief among them being the breach of constitutional principles. Elected members pledge to uphold the Constitution before assuming office, yet instances such as the recent criticism of the Emir’s statement contravene this oath. Such transgressions, deemed violations of the Constitution, have directly precipitated the dissolution of previous assemblies.

Criticism directed at the Emir’s statement suggests that both the executive and legislative branches have failed to safeguard the interests of the nation and its people. In essence, the Emir’s speech merely echoed the sentiments shared by a majority of citizens.

A pathological phenomenon

The Kuwaiti experience has transcended mere history, evolving into what can only be described as a “historical drama.” Some have erroneously equated volume and vociferation with unity, leading to the proliferation of tribal, familial, sectarian, and factional blocs — a pathological phenomenon in itself.

Amid this backdrop, each faction seeks to serve its own interests, often at the expense of legal compliance, misallocation of state funds, and missed opportunities. This self-serving approach has resulted in stagnation in national endeavours and paralysis in political affairs. Some have even begun to view democracy as an end unto itself rather than a means to foster the greater good for all.

The root causes of this impasse, which resulted in inertia, leniency, and negligence of the public interest, are manifold and widely recognised. Indeed, as noted in the article by “Journal of Democracy,” the public has unequivocally rejected such practices, recognising their detrimental impact on Kuwait’s progress — a nation endowed with the world’s sixth-largest oil reserves.

Despite the weight of this legacy, the new Kuwaiti leadership, comprising Prince Mishaal Al Ahmad and Prime Minister Mohammed Sabah Al Salem, appears resolute in addressing the grievances articulated by many Kuwaiti elites.

Last Thursday, a group of colleagues were privy to the preliminary details of a reform initiative. This plan, underscored by principles such as maintaining the law’s prestige and citizens’ dignity and engaging with the Legislative Council in a manner that aligns with constitutional mandates and serves the public interest, signals a hopeful direction for addressing the concerns voiced by many in the Kuwaiti community.

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Towards a flourishing future

Additional guiding principles include a comprehensive approach to rooting out corruption, starting with the most significant cases; prioritising major economic projects that will benefit future generations; fostering an economy that expands economic opportunities and integrates the private sector more fully; streamlining state operations through digital transformation to reduce bureaucratic burdens; enhancing both public and private educational systems to address society’s evolving needs; reinforcing strong relations within the Gulf region and maintaining amicable relations with neighbouring countries; preserving the cohesion of Kuwait’s social fabric; emphasising fraternity, law, and equality among citizens; and prioritising competence in public office appointments, as well as fostering a public consensus free from biases.

These objectives outline the path back to normality. Thus, the outcome of the electoral process on April 4 hinges significantly on the electorate’s approach. If voters arrive at the polls laden with the biases propagated during the election campaign, the cycle of past errors may repeat. However, casting votes with a focus on the greater good and setting aside personal prejudices can safeguard the nation’s progress and uphold social harmony.

While this may pose a challenge for some, a balanced assembly comprising officials of sound judgement and wisdom holds the promise of rejuvenating Kuwait’s journey and averting the perils forewarned by recent events and publications.

Prime Minister Mohammed Sabah Al Salem carries these aspirations, and under his leadership, Kuwait has embarked upon a transformative journey towards prosperity, charting a course that diverges from past impediments towards a flourishing future.

Mohammad Alrumaihi is an author and Professor of Political Sociology at Kuwait University