The Kuwaiti elections one year on

By: Jon Nordenson

Last May Kuwaiti voters put together a new parliament, the first in Kuwaiti history to include women. An eventful year has passed, witnessing its fair share of “political crisis”. But despite some major setbacks, there are some encouraging signs as well.

Nevertheless, I start of with “crisis”. Why do I put “crisis” in brackets? Because there is something profoundly theatrical about Kuwaiti politics from time to time; MPs, cabinet minister and the media often seem more concerned about the political game, or making (the) headlines, than the matter at hand. Thus, when Kuwait Times claims that Kuwait “has been rocked by political crises since 2006”, they are both right and wrong. On the one hand, Kuwait has witnessed seven governments and three elections since 2006, in itself a clear indication of severe problems. And there are some serious issues behind these manifestations of crisis; an unresolved power struggle between an un-elected government and an elected parliament, lack of economic development, discrimination of women, discrimination of ex-pats, far-reaching corruption and more. On the other hand, up until now, both MPs and the government has seemed little willing to deal with the actual problems, and have instead put on a show for the media. However, this seems to be changing.

Perhaps as a result of the many battles over the last three years, both MPs and the government seem more set on resolving difficult situations today. Rather than to display a never ending will to go into battle, this parliament – and government – appear to have chosen a more pragmatic approach. As a result, the government has lived through several interpellations, and new laws have been passed. The interpellations make a good example:

Every Kuwaiti MP has a constitutional right to question cabinet members over any particular issue. The questioning may be followed by a vote of no-confidence, which, if it gains a majority, leads to the automatic dismissal of the minister in question. Before, such interpellations notoriously lead to either the government resigning, or the Emir dissolving parliament. But the last year has been different. Cabinet ministers – including the PM – have chosen to face the interpellations, and to face votes of no-confidence. Even as of today, a new interpellation against the PM is in process, and the PM has declared that he will face questions in parliament. Thus, political crisis is averted, and MPs are able to hold ministers responsible for their actions without risking crisis just for doing so. In my view, this strengthens the institute of the interpellations; it is the issue in question, not the institute in itself, which determines the fate of the government.

Moreover, new laws have been passed. Though this may seem trivial – after all, it is a parliament – the past few years have witnessed more political crisis than political initiatives in Kuwait. But this parliament has approved a new five year plan, a new law on labor rights, a debt relief law, and most recently, a law on privatization. Being a controversial issue in Kuwait, different bills on privatization has circulated in parliament for many years. But this time it passed, at least in principle. Moreover, on the second of June, the parliament is expected to pass a law enhancing the rights of Kuwaiti women.

This being said, all is not well in Kuwaiti politics. All the issues mentioned above – women’s rights, privatization, the five year plan – are put forth by the government. In their quest for economic growth, Kuwait seeks to polish its image, as well as to encourage private investment. But as soon as an issue appears that does not please the government, the outcome is very different. For instance, the Kuwaiti author and activist Mohammad Abdulqader Al-Jassem is currently being detained for speaking out against the royal family. Moreover, the willingness to deal with corruption, abuse of foreign workers and not least the issue of the bedoons seems all but absent. In all, Kuwait still has a long way to go in their democratic project, and the government is moving in the right direction only when this is deemed in line with its own interests.

Nevertheless, I believe the last year has been an encouraging one in Kuwaiti politics. As argued above, both MPs and the government seem more pragmatic, and the institutions of the parliament may be strengthened. Thus, this parliament might just be able to deal with some of the difficult issues facing Kuwait’s democratic project.

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3 Responses to “The Kuwaiti elections one year on”


  1. 1 David June 24, 2010 at 12:32

    7 governments since 2006? How does that work? You mean that personalities have changed 7 times since 2006?

    Thanks


  1. 1 Human rights and Economic Development « The Gulf Research Unit's Blog Trackback on August 24, 2010 at 14:08
  2. 2 Kuwait: reforms still going strong? « The Gulf Research Unit's Blog Trackback on November 23, 2010 at 18:11

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