Kuwaiti women display their passports as they arrive to vote in parliamentary elections at a polling station in Kuwait City on April 4, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

Kuwait: Voting began on Thursday in Kuwait’s first election since Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmad Al Sabah assumed power late last year determined to push through economic reforms after protracted deadlock between appointed governments and elected parliaments.

The new Emir strongly criticised the National Assembly and the government in his first speech before parliament after taking office in December, saying they were “harming the interests of the country and its people”.

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His reform-minded approach with scant tolerance for political bickering seemingly aims to propel the small Gulf Arab state to catch up with neighbours in weaning its economy off oil.

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“These elections are different,” retired health worker Sheikha Yaqoub Al Aziz told AFP, after she cast her vote at a women-only polling station in the Jabriya area.

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“We hope that the interests of the citizens and the country will be achieved, similar to other Gulf countries, and that services will develop.”

Almost 835,000 voters are eligible to choose 50 MPs from 200 candidates, the lowest number in over five decades, including just 13 women, in only the second Kuwaiti election held during Ramadan.

“Kuwait’s participatory politics is unmatched in the region,” Kuwait University political analyst Bader Al Saif told AFP.

“Its system requires a reset and urgently needed reforms no doubt, but the fact that it enables its citizens to express themselves and have a say in governance makes it different.”

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Years-old feuding between appointed governments and the elected parliament has impeded fiscal reform, including passage of a debt law that would allow Kuwait to tap international markets and mitigate its heavy dependence on oil revenues.

The polls opened at noon (0900 GMT) in the election, the fourth since December 2020, and will close at midnight local time. Kuwait bans political parties and candidates run as independents.

Sheikh Meshal, 83, succeeded his late brother Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad in December and dissolved parliament on February 15, less than two months into his tenure.

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His decree cited the assembly’s “violation of the constitutional principles” as a reason for dissolution.

Kuwait’s assembly packs more influence than similar bodies in other Gulf states. Political deadlock, however, has led to endless cabinet reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament, paralysing policy-making, but the Emir holds the upper hand.

The government of Sheikh Ahmed Al Nawaf resigned hours after the Emir’s December speech and Sheikh Mohammad Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah formed a new one that included new ministers of oil, finance, foreign affairs, interior, and defence.


A focus on accelerating reform rather than engaging in negotiations with opposition, political groups and grassroots organisations is the order of the day, Abdul Aziz Al Anjeri, founder and CEO of Reconnaissance Research, told Reuters.

“There is an emphasis on progress with essential matters instead of wasting time in stalling tactics and playing ping-pong with the parliament over issues where the constitution clearly separates powers,” Anjeri said.

“There will be no tolerance for any parliamentary actions perceived by the authority as a clear breach of the principle of separation of powers. Similarly, there will be zero tolerance for any government official implicated in corruption or intentional mismanagement.”

Kuwait became the centre of world attention in August 1990 when it was invaded by then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussain and a US-led coalition came to its rescue.

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and US calls for change in the Middle East, Kuwait’s ruling family has come under pressure from both Islamists and pro-Western liberals to loosen its grip and share power.

Its legislature has the power to pass and block laws, question ministers and submit no-confidence motions, giving it more democratic essentials than other Gulf states but posing the frequent risk of political deadlock.

Kuwait consists of five electoral districts, each with 10 lawmakers. Candidates who secure the top 10 positions in each district win parliamentary seats.