Kuwait City: As Kuwaitis prepare to cast their ballots on December 5, many are eagerly waiting to find out who will be the next 50 members to be voted into the National Assembly (parliament).
Given that both the campaigning and the elections are taking place amidst a pandemic, many factors of this year’s election cycle differ from previous years.
One of the main differences is the COVID-19 restrictions that served as a physical barrier between candidates and voters.
In addition, the pandemic exacerbated several pre-existing issues, everything from corruption and mishandling of public funds to the grimness of the state’s bureaucratic system and the dysfunctional education system.
Who will win?
After registrations closed on November 4, there were 395 candidates, including 33 women.
Since then, 54 candidates stepped down, two of whom were women, bringing the total to 342. As per Kuwaiti election law, candidates running for parliament can step down up to seven days before the scheduled election date.
While it is still too early to call the elections, many have predictions as to who might win.
One of the most prominent and well known political commentators, Salah Al Jasem, stated his most recent predictions during an interview last week on the Ummah 2020 TV programme.
Al Jasem categorised the candidates based on three categories: (1) comfortable and most likely to win; (2) main competitors and are favoured to win; (3) widely known and with more effort and outreach can have a slight chance.
According to Al Jasem, in the first district none of eight previous MPs running are part of the first category. As for the second category, all eight incumbents are main competitors and are favoured to win. In terms of women, Al Jasem said one falls in the second category and four are widely known and with more effort and outreach stand a slight chance.
As for the second district, of the nine previous MPs running this year, three fall in the first category, one of whom was the speaker of the previous parliament, Marzouq Al Ghanim. He predicted four incumbents are main competitors and are favoured to win. Only one previous MP is predicted to be in the third category. When it comes to women in the second district, two fall in the second category and two in the third.
For the third district, Al Jasem stated that of the incumbents in the race, two are in the first category and the remaining seven are in the second. As for the female candidates, two are considered in the second category (one of which is Safaa Al Hashem, the only woman to serve in the previous legislative term) and two are in the third category.
Al Jasem claimed in the fourth district, one of the nine previous MPs running, two are considered to be in the first category, six in the second and one in the third. The fourth district is the only district where there are no female candidates running.
In the fifth district, out of the nine incumbents, one is comfortable and most likely to win and the remaining eight are in the second category. In terms of the women running, one is predicted to be in the second category and one is in the third.
Out of all 31 women running, according to Al Jasem, none are comfortable and most likely to win but many are main competitors and are favored to win.
Informal primary elections
Some of the candidates held primary elections a few months ago and thus have higher chances of winning as they have secured several votes. Since the Kuwaiti political scene lacks political parties, tribes organise informal elections in order to rally their constituents behind a certain parliamentary candidate, who is usually from the same tribe.
Most of the primary elections held in the fifth district resulted in an incumbent being chosen, compared to the fourth district, where new candidates were elected.
“A good portion of those that ran in the primaries might win but not with strong numbers like previous years. The young generation are fed up and feel as if they are being used,” Fawaz Al Shammari, a member of Abdullah Al Shammari’s (candidate running in the 5th district) campaign, told Gulf News.
New candidate vs Previous MP
Gulf News conducted a survey for the purpose of this article to gauge public opinion.
Of the 578 people that took the survey, 467 of them were registered voters. According to Kuwaiti law, one must be over 21 years of age and a registered voter to participate in the elections.
When asked if they prefer voting for a previous MP or a new candidate, 73.6 per cent said they prefer a new candidate.
“How can a previous MP confront the voters and discuss the disasters that occurred during their term as if they are shocked and upset? Do they think that the Kuwaiti people are that naive?” Reem Al Mutairi, a Kuwaiti national, told Gulf News.
Out of the 342 candidates, many are running for the first time, while others have previously run but did not win.
“This is my first time running [for parliament] as I want to prove that Kuwaiti women are able to exercise their political right to run in a democratic country. I always aim to achieve a better future by taking realistic steps towards reforming and to improving the conditions of the country and the Kuwaiti people,” Athraa Al Rifaie, a candidate in the first district, told Gulf News.
Since the last election in 2016, many young Kuwaitis have registered to vote. Thus out of the registered survey takers, 31.6 per cent stated they will be voting for the first time; 74.3 per cent of them are between the ages of 21 and 25.
As voters have a wide variety of candidate to choose from - 52 in the second district and 80 in the fifth - many people are unable to keep up pace. Especially with the candidate who do not have a large social media presence.
That said, 65.8 per cent of the voters have already made up their mind and know who they are voting for.
Topics of voters’ concern
The main three issues that affect voters, based on the survey, are corruption, public funds and education reform.
“I have a general frustration with the political situation in the country, the prevalent corruption and lack of tangible benefits from the parliament. The only reason for my participation is to reduce the damage as much as possible by delivering [my vote to] a candidate with a national democratic orientation,” Anwer Al Sheikh, a Kuwaiti national, told Gulf News.
Voters’ concerns on different topics depend on which district they are from.
When asked what are the main issues that concern voters in the first district, Al Rifaie said, "there are several issues that have exhausted the Kuwaiti society and have plunged us into many problems. While there are several issues, citizens are most worried about not having the right to housing, the lack of jobs, the increase in unemployment, the large number of debts and the suppression of freedoms due to some laws.
Al Shammari explained that in the fifth district, voters are mainly concerned with the rise of unemployment, housing crisis and the poor infrastructure, especially since they are seeing the repercussion during the raining season.
The three topics that impacted voters the least were the Bidoon issue, the demographic imbalance and women’s issues.
Qualities of candidates
When asked what they considered when voting for a candidate, the majority said they look at the person’s experience.
In addition, many pointed out the candidate should have a clear vision, embody their ideology and represent the people, not the government.
Another quality they sought in a the candidate was “credibility”. Abdulrahman Al Qahtani, a Kuwaiti national, told Gulf News: "The candidate should be credible, does not accept bribes or government positions and [should be] concerned with Kuwait’s interests.” .
Many of the survey takers pointed out that some people, when deciding who to vote for, consider if he/she will be willing to provide them with services once elected, like getting a job, seeking treatment abroad, granting them access to housing etc.
Around 27.4 per cent of the registered survey takers said they will not be voting in the upcoming elections. Of them 55.4 per cent said it was because they are part of the boycott movement.
The main reason that some people decided to boycott the elections is because of the single-vote system that was put in place in 2012 by an Emiri decree. In addition, many pointed to the fact that the single-vote system coupled with the lack of political parties and heavy government interference in the legislative branch, means no change will come about until there are serious political reforms.
Among the survey takers between the ages of 35 and 44, 31.7 per cent said they will not be voting and among those between 45 to 54, 31.3 per cent said they will also not be voting; both of which were the highest age groups compared to the rest.
Al Shammari pointed out that in 2016, around 33 per cent - 45,000 out of the 136,236 registered voters in the fifth district - didn’t vote, of them 15,000 were part of the boycott movement.
“I don’t think voter turnout will be higher this year because of COVID-19, but also because people are unsatisfied,” Al Shammari said.
While the boycott movement is still active, it is not as strong as it was when it was established in 2012. Several candidates who have boycotted the elections in the past are running this year.
Mistrust of parliament
When asked how effective has parliament been in recent years (1 being useless and 5 being very effective), of the 578 survey takers, 48.9 per cent said that it was useless.
“No matter how bad the previous parliaments’ performance, we must participate in the elections if we want change. Change is taken and not given,” Abdulmajeed Al Shattai, a Kuwaiti national, told Gulf News.
“The role of parliament in Kuwait is unfortunately stolen. We only have an image of democracy to be proud of. The status of parliament today does not meet the ambitions of the founding fathers and the constitution. The poor political system and the tyranny of corruption has created a state of frustration, despair and lack of trust in democracy,” Dr. Falah Al Hajraf, a Kuwaiti national, told Gulf News.