Posts Tagged 'election'

Live from Kuwait: …democratization?

By: Jon Nordenson

There’s never a dull moment in Kuwaiti politics, but the last few days have been exceptional. In an unprecedented verdict, the constitutional court last week deemed the dissolution of the previous parliament unconstitutional, and reinstated it. Thus; the 2012 elections were declared null and void, and the oppositional parliament it produced is to be replaced by the less oppositional 2009-parliament. However, last night, thousands of protesters begged to differ; they even demanded a full parliamentary system. Are we witnessing a transition towards a more democratic system in Kuwait?

As I have written earlier, Kuwaiti politics have been in a state of constant crisis since Sheykh Nasir al-Muhammad’s ascendance to the premiership in 2006. A campaign (or rather several campaigns) to oust him eventually succeeded last winter, and Sheykh Jabir al-Mubarak replaced him. Then the parliament was dissolved, and new elections called for. These elections produced a clear oppositional majority in the new parliament, which now has been dissolved. The term “oppositional majority” might sound somewhat strange, but this stems from the fact that the government in Kuwait is appointed, not formed based on a parliamentary majority. Thus, the situation was that the majority of the parliament was seen as oppositional towards the government.

This parliamentary majority did, not surprisingly, continue to question government ministers, though not in such a harsh way as before. This may not be surprising either; if they had gone too far, the Emir might have dissolved parliament (as has happened many times before when the opposition question ministers), and all their electoral gains would have been lost. Nevertheless, the government seems to have viewed the situation as quite problematic; before the ruling of the constitutional court, the Emir issued a decree suspending parliamentary activities for a month (which would have lasted until their summer holiday, effectively suspending parliamentary activities until October).

Then came the ruling of the constitutional court, which is final. Their argument was that the Emir dissolved the 2009-parliament following Sheykh Nasir al-Muhammad’s resignation, but before Sheykh Jabir al-Mubarak had formed a new Government. Thus, the dissolution took place without a Government, which is unconstitutional. What is supposed to happen next is as follows; the current Government resigns (which it did yesterday), a new Government corresponding to the 2009 parliament is formed, former speaker of parliament Jasim al-Khurafi resumes his work, reconvenes the 2009 parliament, and they continue until their term expires in 2013. However, this is not likely to happen, as a majority of the 2009 parliament protest the court’s verdict and refuses to reconvene. Thus, as described by al-Qabas newspaper today, the most likely scenario is as follows; a new government is formed, the old parliament is reconvened but unable to perform its duties, the government asks the Emir to dissolve it, and new elections are held. Again.

The oppositional majority of the 2012 parliament has staunchly opposed the court’s verdict, deeming it political and unconstitutional. As mentioned, a rally was held outside parliament last night, under the heading “we won’t surrender”, drawing thousands of people (estimates vary, but most place the number at between 30 000 and 40 000). A new movement has also been launched; the “return of the majority”-movement. However, the most remarkable thing about last night’s rally was not the protest against the verdict or the rather impressive turnout; it was the demands put forward by the MPs (demands that have also been launched in the media by the same MPs): a full parliamentary system, with an elected Government, and Kuwait as a constitutional monarchy. These demands have been raised by youth movements for well over a year, but now a majority of the (ousted) MPs support them as well. Seemingly, the struggle for democratization in Kuwait has taken a big leap forward. There are, however, several factors at play one should bear in mind:

–          The Hadar/Badu split: Kuwait has been described as a divided society, and one split is between the Hadar (city-dwellers) and Badu (tribal) parts of the population. The Hadar have traditionally held on to the lion’s share of both money and power, whereas the Badu, in spite on constituting a majority of the electorate, are underprivileged in both arenas (which is part of the reason why many demand one electoral district). Not surprisingly, the Badu have been at the forefront of both the campaign against Nasir al-Muhammad, the opposition in parliament, and the campaigns for democratization. Thus, some have deemed the ouster of al-Muhammad and the opposition’s success in the last elections a “tribal revolution”, antagonizing many Hadar. (now) Former MP Muhammad al-Juwaihil has made a career out of this division, constantly making derogatory remarks about the tribes, and questioned their rights in Kuwait under the less than charming heading “Kuwait for Kuwaitis”. The tribes have taken the bait and lashed out against al-Juwaihil, on one occasion burning down his campaign tent. In other words; we might be witnessing an increased polarization of Kuwaiti society.

–          This also goes for sectarianism: about one third of Kuwaitis are Shias, and sectarian tension is a very sensitive subject in Kuwait. Following the “Arab Spring”, the issue has come to the fore. Whereas Kuwaiti Shias generally support the democratic movement in Bahrain, many Sunni politicians and activists have branded it as Iranian interference. Some Sunni politicians – who are part of the opposition – have also accused Shia politicians of lying in Parliament. It should be noted here that most of the Shia MPs were among Nasir al-Muhammad’s closest allies.

–          The Democratic credentials of the opposition: though the demands put forward now seems as important steps towards a more democratic Kuwait, not all parts of the opposition’s track record are equally persuasive. With regards to Bahrain, they have generally not supported the (Shia) democratic movement, whereas they have taken the opposite stance towards the (Sunni) uprising in Syria. Many of the oppositional MPs have supported tougher laws on blasphemy, even advocating death penalty for insults to the prophet. Not all support female MPs and ministers, and one has made negative remarks towards Kuwait allowing churches to be built in the country. The opposition is complex and consists of different groups and ideologies, but many would find it difficult to call it an unambiguously democratic opposition as such.

–          Disagreements within the royal family: there are differences within the ruling family as to which direction Kuwait should take for the future. One persistent rumor has it that some parts of the family are fed up with political bickering hindering any economic development, and are enviously looking to Qatar and the Emirates. Another point is the fight for power; many ambitious members of the ruling family seek their share of power, and try to position themselves. Often, they have allies in parliament and otherwise, giving the infighting wider effects. This has gone so far that the leading newspaper al-Qabas took the unprecedented step and spoke of it on their front page.

There are of course other important factors in play as well. For instance, the fight against corruption, an ever present phenomenon in Kuwait, is at once both very real and the favored accusation used by the opposition as well as pro-government forces. The tribes’ demand for democratic reform may of course be interpreted both as a step towards a more democratic Kuwait, or as the tribes using it for their own benefit, as they stand to win from more proportional representation. Kuwaiti politics is chaotic at the moment, and sometimes quite messy, and certainly unpredictable. But this might be just what democratization looks like. Many different forces with different motives are involved, some probably less noble than others. Yet; if more power is to be moved to democratically elected institutions, others have to give up said powers, which naturally will be a contested process. There is hardly any surprise in a process of democratization being a messy and unpredictable one, and these are adjectives that fit well with Kuwaiti politics at the moment. But one thing is, at least, certain: the question of a full parliamentary system has been raised by MPs, and many will probably feature this in their programs in the next elections (which, I expect, will happen shortly). Given the populist nature of Kuwait’s electoral campaigns, the proposal might very well gain considerable support should the electorate respond positively to it.

 

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The Kuwaiti elections: new elections shortly?

By: Jon Nordenson

When Kuwaiti voters went to the polls on Thursday February 2nd, it marked the end of an eventful and extremely tense election campaign. And given the results, the work of the new parliament is likely to be eventful and tense as well, albeit short lived.

However, before going through the latest results, a quick look a the past few years in Kuwaiti politics is in place. From Sheykh Nasir al-Muhammad’s ascendence to the premiership in 2006, until his (last and final) resignation in November 2011, Kuwaiti politics were in a state of “crisis”. As I have written earlier, the kind of “crisis” referred to here is somewhat different from other countries; it was not a particular and unusual situation that brought turmoil to the country. Rather, it was a constant, but slowely escalating conflict between the opposition and the government, effectively hindering any “normal” political work, that is; passing laws, developing the country, and so on. Instead, the legislative and the executive powers were locked in an seemingly endless cycle of interpellations, resigning governments and early elections.

When Kuwaiti voters went to the polls in 2009, for the third time in three years, the credo was that everyone was tired of political bickering and wanted a parliament and a government capable of doing their jobs and fulfilling their terms. The election provided a majority supporting the PM and the government, and for a while, the deadlock seemed to be broken. However, allthough the opposition constituted a minority, they continued their attacks on the cabinet, earning them the nickname “crisis MPs”. Then, following the break up of a oppositional rally by the police in December 2010, things escalated. Prominent opposition MPs present at the rally promised to question the PM in parliament, and to present a motion of no confidence.  Allthough the government still enjoyed majority support in parliament, immense pressure was put on Sheykh Nasir to resign.

Grass-roots movements against Sheykh Nasir, such as “Kafi” (enough) and “as-Sur al-Khamis” (the fifth fence, a reference to the old city wall of Kuwait City),  began to appear, and rallies were organized more and more frequently.  The movements became better organized and coordinated, and teamed up with oppositional MPs to pressure the PM under the slogan “Hukuma jadida – ra’is jadid – nahj jadid” (new Government, new PM, new approach). Throughout the spring and summer they held demonstrations, seminars, issued declarations, and – inspired by the Arab spring – their own “Friday of wrath/anger”. As is evident in their latest declaration, their ultimate goal is a fully democratic Kuwait, with an elected government.

Then came the “25 million KD”-scandal; 15 MPs were allegedly paid by the Government/the PM to be supportive in parliament. The scandal brought outrage among ordinary Kuwaitis as well as the opposition, which vowed to question the PM on the issue. However, MPs formerly supportive of the cabinet switched sides, and it became evident that the opposition now constituted a majority. Sheykh Nasir, as other members of the cabinet from the royal family, refused to face a vote of no confidence he actually might loose, and managed to prevent the opposition from presenting their questioning. Infuriarated by this, oppositional MPs along with demonstrators took the unprecedented step of storming the parliament on November 16th, 2011. The situation had become unbearable for the royal family, and Shaykh Nasir resigned. Defence Minister Sheykh Jabir al-Mubarak was named as his successor, but before he formed his first cabinet, the Emir dissolved parliament and called for new elections.

Which brings us to this years campaign. One event in particular will be remembered from a campaign described by many as harsh and extremely tense; the burning of candidate Muhammad al-Juwaihil’s campaign tent. Al-Juwaihil, who made the headlines in December 2009 when he made derogatory remarks about Kuwait’s tribal population on his own TV-channel, once again lashed out against the Badu. This time, his remarks were directed against the Mutayr tribe, and provoked imideate reactions; hundreds of members of the tribe attacked his campaign HQ, and burned the tent to the ground. Police arrived at the scene, but proved unable/unwilling to interfer.

The incident was hardly accidental. The division between the Hadar (city dwellers) and the Badu (Beduins) is nothing new in Kuwait, but tensions have reached new levels over the past years. The Badu, which constitute a majority of the voters but a minority in parliament, feel marginalized, whereas the traditionally prosporous and mercantile Hadar feel their position threatened. Thus, when al-Juwaihil made his remaks, he did so knowing they would provoke a strong reaction, which in turn would benefit his electoral prospects among Hadar wary of tribal influence. Not surprisingly, both al-Juwaihil and his “partner in crime” Nabil al-Fadl were elected, as was five members of the Mutayr tribe. In the current political climate, both sides benefit from such incidents.

Moreover, it seems clear that the difference between the opposition and the government stems from more than just disagreement over particular issues. In fact, it has little to do with particular issues, as these are seldom dealt with by parliament. Rather, as discussed above, over the past few years it has been all about former PM Nasir al-Muhammad. But in reality, it may be a question of the Badu seeking greater influence. The movement against Sheykh Nasir, both inside and outside parliament, has consisted mainly of tribal MPs and activists. And in the elections just concluded, the opposition won 18 out of 20 seats in the two tribal electoral districts. If the difference in reality is an issue of Badu vs. Hadar, it seems unlikely that it will disappear even though a new PM has been named; more substantial changes would be needed.  As mentioned, the rallying call has been more democracy, which would, given that the Badu constitute a majority of the voters, give them greater influence. It should be noted here, though, that many tribal MPs have been staunchly against both female parliamentary participation in Kuwait as well as democratization in Bahrain (which would benefit the Shia majority), so to brand the opposition as purely democratict might be somewhat incorrect.

Moreover, there are of course other issues involved as well. The Arab spring has been influental in Kuwait as in other countries, providing momentum for the opposition. Secterian tensions between Shia and Sunni has been fuelled by events in the region, particularly Bahrain, and corruption is a very real and ever present phenomenon in Kuwait, important to voters from all political camps.

In last week’s elections, Islamist/Tribal/Oppositional candidates – all deemed oppositional by the Kuwaiti press – gained about 35 seats, and were the big winners. Shia candidates lost two seats compared to 2009, and ended up on seven. Liberals, who often found themselves in the middle between a staunch opposition and the government, did poorly, perhaps not surprisingly in the current climate. Whereas four women made history and were elected to the last parliament, no female candidate made it this time around. About 62% of Kuwait’s roughly 400 000 eligible voters went to the polls, and oppositional candidates won in four out the five electoral districts.

The opposition is by no means a unified groups; it consists of representatives from the Kuwaiti Muslim Brootherhood, Salafis, Nationalists and one liberal. Thus, they might find it difficult to unite on many issues, such as the amendement of article two of the constitution to make Sharia the sole source of law in the country. However, they have proved more than able to unite in their fight against the government before. And, as discussed above,if  the opposition is about much more than a fight against Sheykh Nasir al-Muhammad, they are likely to do so again. With a majority of 35 seats, they will be able to pass a motion of no confidence against any minister. The traditional reaction of al-Sabah ministers to such a situation has been either for the government to resign, or for the parliament to be dissolved. Now, with a new PM, this would be difficult and embaressing, but perhaps also unavoidable.

Thus, the result of these elections might very well be a new round of elections in the not to distant future.

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.

Development and censorship

By: Jon Nordenson

A quick look on Kuwaiti politics since the last elections suggests a positive development; laws have been passed, and no government has resigned. But then a show on a private TV-station set the scene for an attack on the country’s freedom of expression.

Kuwait’s elections last May were the third elections in three years. Moreover, those previous three years had witnessed no less than seven governments. Paralyzed by a power struggle with the parliament, the government did not manage to deal with pressing issues, and few laws were passed in parliament. As I have written earlier, many ordinary Kuwaitis were fed up with this deadlock, and voted for change in the last elections. And indeed, this parliament – and government – seems to be different from their predecessors.

For one thing, there’s the interpellations. Previously, when Kuwaiti MPs have moved to question ministers (often referred to as “grilling” in Kuwaiti English newspapers), in particular ministers from the ruling Al-Sabah family, this often led to crisis. But this time, ministers – including the PM himself – have faced questioning in parliament, and even votes of no-confidence submitted by MPs following some of the interpellations. With even the PM facing the parliament in this way, an important taboo has been broken in Kuwaiti politics, and the parliament has proved their ability to fill their supervisory function.

Moreover, the parliament and the government have taken on difficult political issues, and laws have been passed. For instance, on the 30th of January, the new labor law was sent to the government for ratification. The law, which includes many improvements for laborers in Kuwait’s private sector, has already been passed in parliament, and will soon go into effect.

The parliament also passed the so called “debt relief law”, intended to help Kuwaiti citizens manage their private debts. According to Kuwait Times, the law requires the state to buy approximately $ 16 billion (!) worth of private debts, spend $ 6 billion to pay off interests, and reschedule the payments so that no citizen must pay more than 35% of their monthly income in their monthly payments. One may of course discuss how wise it would be to spend such enormous amounts in such a way, and many have criticized the law. The critics include the cabinet, which refuses to accept it. But populism is undeniably a part of politics, and it shows a parliament determined to make political decisions.

In addition, the cabinet and the parliament is currently debating a five year development plan, the privatization of Kuwait Airways, and a new bill concerning the rights of disabled people. As for difficult matters, the parliament held a special session on the issue of the Beedons – stateless inhabitants of Kuwait – and their social and political rights. The question of the Beedons has for a long time been a difficult matter for Kuwaiti authorities, and a source for much international criticism.

In all, since the last elections, the cabinet and the parliament has managed to break the deadlock, pass bills, face pressing issues, and for the government; face questioning in parliament as well. Though one should be careful to deem something “good” or “bad” politics, it does seem that Kuwaiti politics has entered a more constructive path since the last elections, with focus on politics rather than on crisis.

But then came the comments of Mohammed al-Juwaihel on his own private TV-station, al-Sur (“The Wall”). Just before Christmas, al-Juwaihel said on air that Bedouins are not really Kuwaitis, and that only city-dwellers are real citizens of the country. Naturally, this sparked an outrage from tribal MPs and others, demanding action from the government. Al-Juwaihel was arrested, and now amendments to the media laws are discussed, which critics say will limit the freedom of expression in Kuwait. According to Reporters Sans Frontiers, the new amendments stipulate harsh penalties for anyone insulting members of the royal family, who makes blasphemous statements, or who incite sectarianism in the country. In addition, censorship will be imposed on Kuwait’s active blogosphere. Although the comments made by al-Juwaihel was what sparked these amendments, critics claim the government have been planning them for a long time, waiting for the right time to launch them.

The question then, is, where are Kuwaiti politics going? On the one hand, the cabinet and the parliament seem more able to create development and make political decisions, on the other, they seem less concerned about the basic democratic right of freedom of expression. It may be tempting to point to Dubai, where democratic rights are sacrificed in favor of rapid, economic development. And indeed, some of the points in the governments five year development plan does lead one’s thoughts to Dubai, such as the construction of the “world’s largest tower”. However, Kuwait and Dubai are two very different places; Kuwaitis are proud of their democratic project, and the government will probably face many difficulties if it should try to implement the above mentioned amendments. Still, these last few weeks have highlighted what might be a difficult question in Kuwait in the years to come; development vs. democracy.

Report from Teheran: The election sparks popular enthusiasm

By: Yadullah Shahibzadeh

Regardless of the outcomes of the Friday presidential election in Iran, this election has revealed new aspects and potentials of Iranian politics. The cynics of Iranian politics believed until recently that every thing, to the last detail, has been arranged to show the western world yet another boring Iranian election, as a result of which nothing significant comes out in the end. To make this presidential election more interesting, Iranian TV announced open debates between presidential candidates for the first time since the presidential elections started in 1979. Now after the end of these debates, the immense impact they had on millions of decided and undecided Iranian voters is beyond question.

The absolute majority of Iranians followed these debates, and have made the main topics and the details of the debates the object of serious debates as well as funny tales and jokes transmitted through newspapers, conversations and millions of sms messages. People of every political persuasion,  from those who are very proud of boycotting all elections to show that they are smarter then those who lead the political games in Iran to those who see voting as a citizenry duty no matter what the outcomes of the election would be, to those who have already decided to vote for the first time in their lives because of the miserable economic and  political situation they believe the incumbent administration has created  for their country, and finally to those who believe that elections are the best means possible to make a change no matter how little it might be; all have followed these debates enthusiastically. The expected high turnout in the Friday election is due partly to these broadcasted debates during which the presidential candidates criticized each other relentless and sometimes exposed the opponent’s share in the economic corruption in the country.

Another new phenomenon in this election is the unprecedented occasional demonstrations of the supporters of the reform oriented Mousavi in Teheran’s streets that starts every day from the afternoon to 3 or 4 clocks of the next morning. As a response to the government’s reluctance to rent the largest  stadium in Teheran to Mossavi supporters  on Wednesday, a human chain of more than 20 kilometers in  Tehran’s Vali-ye Asr street that lasted several hours has been the most stylish and powerful demonstration of support for a candidate thus far. This human chain refreshed the memory of many side walkers and participants in the demonstration of the great times of the Iranian revolution, the time of solidarity and selflessness, something Mir Hossein Mousavi is very proud of evoking in his speeches as well as in his last TV broadcasted interview. But more importantly, this form of political activity is what Mousavi has asked for since the first day of his candidacy. Unlike Khatami, who expected the Iranians vote for him in the time of election to carry out the reforms, Moussavi asks for their active participation with a revolutionary spirit. He calls himself an eslah-talab-e osulgara, (a reformer who remains true to the principles) a term misunderstood not only by his conservative and reform oriented opponents but also by many ‘experts’ of Iranian politics. The principles Mousavi refers to are solidarity, selflessness towards transformation of a stagnant political situation for the people and by the people. When we ask to what extent  the presidential candidate`s promises are realistic we simply think of the post-election performances. But I think in Mousavi’s case we have seen that he has fulfilled, at least, two of his promises, the opening of the political sphere and the spirit of solidarity he and his supporters have created during past few days that has made politics for hundreds of thousands of people, regardless of age, gender, education and social position an enjoyable activity. And in this regard he has tried and succeeded so far to revive the forgotten solidarity that Iranians have experienced during the revolution. The Iran of the past few days has experienced this solidarity through Mousavi’s ‘green wave’ or rather ‘green movement’. Now, the question is, can Mousavi’s ‘green movement’ develop after the election to fulfill its various promises, or become yet another memory in the collective consciousness of a nation whose political spirituality is understood by its artists such as Mohsen Makhmalbaf but misunderstood and hated by its philosophers such as Abdolkarim Soroush.

Kuwait: Change, but no revolution

By: Jon Nordenson

Obama`s message of change seems to have hit the Gulf, with Kuwaitis electing 21 new faces out of 50 members of parliament, among them the first four female MPs of the country. But both the Prime Minister and the political bottlenecks remain the same.

The 16th of May 2009 was a historic day in Kuwait. For the first time, female candidates won seats in the 50 member parliament. The four women, Massuma al-Mubarak, Aseel al-Awadhi, Rola Dashti and Salwa al-Jassar, performed strongly in their electoral districts, with al-Mubarak – a Shia former health Minister – being the winner in the first district with 21% of the votes.

The 2009 election is the third election in just as many years. It is also the third time women have been able to run for parliament. And even though Kuwaiti women make up 54.3 per cent of the country`s 385,000 eligible voters, it took three attempts to make it to parliament, perhaps underlining this election as one characterized by change.

Other changes took place as well. There are 21 new members in parliament and the Shia groups and the liberals gained strength. The Sunni Islamists were dealt a blow when the the Islamic Constitutional Movement – the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood – and the more conservative Islamic Salafi Alliance lost more than half of their seats. Waleed al-Tabtabaei, an independent salafi re-elected to parliament, blamed the Islamist`s loss on “the lack of a clear vision on various crucial issues, the counter-campaigns launched against them and the lack of cooperation amongst them”. However, others have pointed to different explanations, such as their conservative outlook and what many have deemed as an unconstructive appearance in parliament. Furthermore, in an election where four women swept into the national assembly, al-Tabtabaei doesn`t seem to be quite in touch with the electorate when he states that “(the women`s) presence will not affect the parliament’s work”.

As for an “unconstructive appearance” in parliament, this refers to the political crisis Kuwait has witnessed over the last years. Under Kuwaiti constitution, MP`s have the right to request “grillings” of cabinet ministers on a subject, which might eventually lead to a vote of no confidence. Lately, these requests have targeted cabinet members form the ruling Sabah-family, over various issues ranging from the destruction of a Mosque built without permit to mismanaging of funds by the PM`s office. Such requests directed at members of the ruling family have not been viewed favorably by the Emir, who invariably dissolved parliament and called for new elections. Paralyzed by this deadlock, the government has not been able to deal with pressing issues, such as a $5bn stimulus package designed to handle the financial crisis. Islamist MP Dr Ali Al-Omair acknowledged this, stating that “Now we are reaping what had been sown through previous Islamist parliamentary practices, namely the numerous grilling motions submitted by Islamic lawmakers, which were too much for the people”. Thus, in the words of newly elected Aseel al-Awadhi, “People voted for change because people are fed up with deadlocks”.

However, while the election certainly brought about change, not all trouble makers from the previous parliament were punished by the electorate. For even though the mainstream Sunni Islamists may have suffered from an electorate fed up with crisis, several of the “crisis MP`s” – MP`s who requested grilling – were re-elected. Among them is MP Dhaifallah Buramia, who already has warned that if the ministers of defense and interior are re-appointed, crisis will erupt once again. Furthermore, the Emir announced on May 20th that he once again has given his nephew Sheikh Nasser Mohammad Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah the task of forming a new government. As many of the grillings were directed at the Prime Minister himself, this may signal continued conflict between parliament and cabinet. Lastly, the re-appointment of the PM after an election of change leads us to perhaps Kuwait`s biggest political problem of all; the power struggle between the royal family and the elected deputies. Though few criticize the royal family directly, the contradiction between an elected parliament and a government appointed by the Emir is plain for all to see. Or as al-Jazeera`s Hashem Ahelbarra puts it: “Kuwait faces the challenge of maintaining a relatively democratic system while preserving quasi-absolute powers of the ruling family”.

So while this election certainly brought change, and hopefully signaled wider acceptance of women in Kuwaiti politics, it did not revolutionize Kuwaiti politics. Furthermore, it probably did not solve the fundamental issues behind the political crisis. As many grow tired of a crisis-ridden parliament-government relationship not able to deal with pressing issues, Kuwait`s democratic project may pay heavily for a continued deadlock.


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