Sheikh Manzoor – Kuwait
At a time when Kuwait is facing serious internal problems and external challenges, political alliance of Islamist parties emerged victorious in the just concluded Majlis al-Umma or national assembly elections. The alliance bagged nearly half of the directly elected seats in the parliament. The total strength of the Assembly is 65 with 15 appointed ministers who are ex-officio members and 50 directly elected—10 each from five electoral districts.
We were sure of getting good number of seats and people reposed faith in us, Said newly elected member Waled Tabatathi, who belongs to Salafi groups. Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis bagged ten seats together while their allies including liberals won good number of seats and it will have major role in the decision making policies of the next government in Kuwait. However, there are apprehension that their victory may lead to confrontation with the government at a time when there is a volatile situation in the region. The election result was also surprising for many as more than sixty per cent members of the dissolved house lost elections where people overwhelmingly voted to give chance to young candidates.
There were major confrontations between the conservative lawmakers and the government on various policies that made it very difficult for the smooth functioning of the previous government and the Emir Shaeikh Sabha al Ahmad al Sabha was forced to dissolve the assembly twice in one year in 2012. However, the government made certain changes in the electoral system which angered the Islamist groups and they boycotted the 2012 assembly election, thus enabling the government to work smoothly in the absence of any major opposition. But this created resentment among the people, who were not happy with the performance of the previous parliament as it took many tough fiscal measures. More ever there were allegation of corruption against some members and the Emir thought it was wise to dissolve the assembly six months ahead of completion of its term.
There is a possibility that Islamist may pose new problems for the regime, which is facing growing threat from Daeah and other extremist groups. Some of the newly elected members want to change the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al Mubarak, but that appears a remote possibility. In his decree the Emir cited regional circumstances and security concern for dissolving the assembly. It is to be seen how the Emir, who has been at the helm of affairs for decades, handles the emerging situation.
There is a general feeling among the newly elected members of the national assembly that all groups in the alliance should remain united against external challenges and must extend full support to the government in this regard.
The Emir is now holding consultations with his aides to give final shape to the new cabinet. He has to pick up about half a dozen newly elected lawmakers as ministers while the top cabinet positions in the ministry will be filled from the royal family. This time the number of Shia members in national assembly also reduced in numbers, from nine to six. These Shia lawmakers have been supportive of the palace-run government policies. One woman lawmaker was also elected.
Unlike the other GCC states, Kuwait holds free and fair assembly elections but most power still remains in the hands of the ruling al Sabah family, although the parliament exercises a right to interrogate ministers and can pass a vote of no-confidence. There is, however, a larger question that this election has thrown up, that is, whether Kuwait will continue progressing on the path of political reforms and democratisation. Kuwait has taken significant steps towards reforms precisely after liberation from Iraq in the early 90s. Kuwaiti MPs are directly elected and can question and discuss policy decisions taken by the cabinet. One of the main long-term demands of the opposition is to have an elected government, which has been so far rejected by the monarchy. Analysts believe that the idea of an elected government seems difficult to materialise in the current regional climate, because strong political reforms can lead to riddles in the neighbourhood.
There are some other important domestic issues in Kuwait, especially the status of stateless tribal Bedouins, corruption scandals, austerity, and tough security measures that have marred previous governments. Security has emerged as a major issue in the past few years as Kuwait has witnessed a number of terrorist attacks. A suicide attack on a Shia mosque killed 27 worshippers on June 26, 2015. There was also an attempt to target the US soldiers in October 2016; an incident that was initially seen as an accident but was later confirmed as a terrorist attack. Concentrated efforts by the security agencies had led to the unearthing of many sleeper cells of the terrorist group DAESH, prompting the government to take some extraordinary measures, which were deemed by the opposition as stifling of free speech and dissent. A government proposal to collect DNA samples of all citizens for identification purposes was highly unpopular and has been postponed for now.
Kuwait’s oil income accounts for 95 percent of government revenues. At a time when oil prices are still low country’s revenue has fallen by 60 percent in the last year. The Gulf nation's budget deficit is around $15 billion. Kuwait's native citizens make up about 30 percent of its 4.4 million population. The government’s absolute control in the previous assembly has been reduced to a fragile majority in this election where most of the elected MPs have openly said they would oppose any austerity measures by the government to boost non-oil income.
The good performance of Muslim Brotherhood and other conservatives in the recent assembly elections may pave the way for a reconciliatory line in the body politics of Kuwait, the GCC and the broader Arab world. For the smooth functioning and political stability of the new government Emir should give some representation to the conservative political group in the cabinet.
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