Posts Tagged 'parliament'

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 Bahraini regime trying to reach a post-revolt phase

By: Tora Systad Tyssen

Whereas the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt at the beginning of the Arab spring led to regime falls, the Bahraini one did not and the Al Khalifa royal family is still ruling the small island just off the Saudi coast. In fact, the only thing that has fallen so far in the kingdom is the Pearl monument at the Pearl Roundabout in the capital Manama,  thought to be to the Bahraini revolution what Tahrir was to the Egyptian. It was bulldozed in March when the protesters residing there were dispersed by force.

Even though the anti-government demonstrations prevails across the country and the state security police are out almost every night charging and arresting demonstrators the regime is working hard to give the impression that Bahrain has entered a post-revolt phase. Following the lift of the state of emergency on June 1st a set of steps have been made to give the impression that Bahrain is on its way back to a more stabile political situation[i].

One step was the introduction of what was called a national dialogue in July, where oppositional forces were invited to discuss matters of political, economical, social and human rights reform with the government. Al Wifaq, the main oppositional group that pulled out of the parliament in March in reaction to the governments repression of demonstrations this spring, decided to boycott the dialogue after having attended some of the sessions. Rejecting strongly the regimes emphasis on socioeconomic problems rather than political ones as the root of the protests this spring, they also decided to boycott the by-elections in September/October. The elections were conducted to fill the 18 seats that became vacant after al-Wifaq pulled out of parliament. This being another step by the regime to bring political life in the kingdom back to a more normal state, ignoring the demonstrations still happening across the country. At the opening of parliament on October 9th King Al Khalifa stated in his opening speech that it now is the duty of the Cabinet and the Parliament to take the recommandations from the national dialogue in July into practice and legislation if needed. According to the king significant political reforms are underway including granting the parliament more power and implementing stricter guidelines for nominations for the Upper House (Shura Council. The Bahraini parliament consists of two houses, an elected lower house, and a nominated upper house). The current voting districts, often accused of being gerrymandered to secure a sunni majority in the parliament, are being reviewed to ensure, according to the king, «that Bahrain’s citizens are given fair representation in their electoral constituencies»[ii].

A third step was the establishing of The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry by the king on June 29th this year. The committee, consisting of five non-bahrainis, is tasked with investigating and reporting on the events that took place in Bahrain from February 2011, and the consequences of those events. In other words, to map out the alleged violations of human rights by the state security forces and give recommandations on what its consequences should be[iii].

And so how successful have these steps been in taking Bahrain into a post-revolt state? Well, the easy answer would be not very. Demonstrations are still ongoing, no real reform is seen and and the fact that the Saudi military forces have not completely pulled out those not convey an image of stability or normality (supposing the political situation in Bahrain was stabile and normal prior to the uprising). True, the demonstrations are on a smaller scale than earlier this year, but that is mainly due to a severe crack down on them, rather than the demonstrators pulling out having achieved their objects. Even though the king has promised political reform, no real evidence is seen of it. The fact that al Wifaq has pulled out of the parliamentary system (and the voter turnout in September in some districts was less than 20 %), harms its legitimacy and illustrates the royal families failure to convince the population that it is taking its demands seriously.

In addition the Commission of Enquiry is accused of being biased towards the governments interests and the fact that it is nominated by the king does not help in this regard. The issue is addressed at the commissions official webpage stating in its defence that it «has benefited from a consultation process with various bodies, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights». Still many Bahrainis do not expect the commission to map out the breaches of human rights in a sufficent way, despite the commissions postponing of its report from October 23rd to November 23rd saying it needs more time to review in depth the 8800 complaints it has heard and the 5700 interviews it has conducted[iv].

What will be interesting to see is whether the commissions findings and recommandations will be acted on. In the opening speech of the parliament the king promised it would. How much that is related to the $53 million American arms deal Bahrain is trying to close, is difficult to say. A spokesman of the American State Department said on October 18th it would look closely at the report and «continue to take human rights considerations into account as we move toward the finalization of this deal”. At least half a dozen senators have written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticizing Bahrains human rights violations, claiming «completion of the arms sale would weaken U.S. credibility amid democratic transitions in the Middle East». Some reports claim the deal is already finalized. If it turns out to be, a strong American statement is made that they view Bahrain as being in a somewhat post-revolt phase, as many would claim selling weapons to a state handling a revolt would be questionable, despite the arms supposedly only being meant for «external use»[v].

 


[i] More on the current development in Bahrain:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15358707

[iii] More on the commission and its legal framework:
http://www.bici.org.bh/

Implications of 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Iran

By: Yadullah Shahibzadeh

Iran’s parliament elections are scheduled to take place in early March 2012.[1] Last two parliament elections were engineered by Iran’s Guardian Council of the Constitution in such a way that conservative forces close to Mahmud Ahmadinezhad won the majority of the seats in the parliament. Disqualification of hundreds of reform oriented candidates in the previous parliament elections and the suspicious results of 2009 presidential election convinced reform oriented forces close to Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami, to stay away from the debates on 2012 parliament elections. While conservative political organizations and politicians supporting Ahamadinezhad in the 2009 presidential elections are preparing themselves for the coming elections they express their concern over the consequences of eventual absence of reform oriented forces in the elections which may put popular legitimacy of the political system in danger.[2] The absence of reform oriented forces in the election would certainly result in low voter turnout, something the Islamic Republic has tried to avoid throughout its history even though it has not always been able to handle the consequences of high voter turnouts as the outcomes of the 2009 presidential election have shown. The 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi who contested the results of the election are now under house-arrest and many politicians and political activists who supported them in their presidential campaign have been sentenced to prison and their newspapers and organizations closed down. Right now, reform oriented forces led by Khatami are united behind the demands he put forward as a condition of their participation in the elections according to which all political prisoners must be released, freedom of expression and assembly must be protected, and finally free and fair elections must be guaranteed by the government.[3] Since last year, Khatami reiterated these demands several times but has not received any positive response from the conservatives in power. The reluctance of the reform oriented forces to be engaged in the debates on the coming elections has irritated veteran conservative figures who assume that the reform oriented forces may pursue undercover electoral strategies in the elections. According to this supposedly secrete strategy they will not participate in the elections officially but would select and support candidates declared by the Guardian Council as qualified candidates provided they follow a reform oriented politics in the parliament.[4]  The absence of the reform oriented forces from the coming elections makes the efforts of the conservative forces with their meetings, debates and negotiations to form a joint list of candidates in the coming elections to look like a worthless effort since the elections seem to lack real electoral competition. While the absence of a real electoral opponent should have made conservative forces to expect an easy electoral victory, it makes them more cynical and has intensified their divisions and inner fighting. At the moment, there are three conservative sub-factions expecting to win the majority of the seats in the new parliament. Traditional conservatives alliance the United Front of Principalists (jebheye motahed-e osulgarayan) led by the current president of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Mahdavi Kkani, the neo-conservative radical forces, which paved the way for Ahamdinezhad’s  presidency in 2005 and 2009, in the Resistance Front (jebheye paidari) led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and finally supporters of Ahmadinezhad’s chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaiy referred to as deviators (monhatefin) by their conservative rivals.[5]

The traditional conservatives believe they would benefit from participation of reform oriented forces in the elections, because it would restore the popular legitimacy the state enjoyed but has been seriously damaged in the aftermath of 2009 presidential election and force Ahmadinezhad’s allies to obey the majority rule within the conservative faction which they have ignored in the previous elections since 2005. But popular legitimacy is a strange word for Ahamdinezhad and his neo-conservative allies whether in the Resistance Front or among those backing Rahim Mashaiy. They both prefer to get rid of reform oriented candidates at all costs.

The traditional conservative faction has good reason to worry about unpredicted consequences of its internal rivalry and the informal support of reform oriented forces to little known reform oriented parliamentary candidates. In the case of a unified conservative list of candidates, the Guardian Council would have an easy job to disqualify unwanted candidates but it might be unable to perform its function satisfactorily when conservatives forces enter the elections with different lists of candidates, because in that case unknown reform oriented candidates cannot be easily recognized, classified and disqualified. There is a chance, the conservatives assume, that as a consequence of their internal confusion the reform oriented forces come out victorious from the elections without compromising their demands as a condition for their electoral participation. Unlike presidential elections in which voters distinguish candidates according to their political affiliations and in terms of their reformist or conservative approach, parliament elections entail many regional and local interests and concerns. For instance, there is an elite competition between Arabs and non-Arabs in the province of Khuzestan which has been exploited by conservatives close to Ahmadinezhad and Mohsen Rezaiy, former commanders of the Revolutionary Guard, in the previous elections and it will be exploited in the forthcoming elections as well. While the former can mobilize Arab voters behind Arab candidates in the south-west of the province, the latter would invest his political influence in the north-east of the province to mobilize non-e Arab voters behind his own candidates. With regard to the split within the conservative faction in this province, reform oriented forces may support Arab or non-Arab candidates advocating local causes and would like to join the reform oriented politics. The political scene in the province of Bushehr is friendlier for such reform oriented electoral maneuvering since the local public sphere in this region is dominated by local intellectuals and political activists who are unanimous in their support for democratic reforms on a local and national scale. Local intellectuals and political activists in this region would support reform oriented candidates since they can transmit their voice and discuss local grievances in the parliament and force governments to take the interests of their province and cities into consideration.[6] The current representatives of Bushehr in the parliament are supportive of reform oriented city councils and local non-governmental organizations and raise their voice against central government’s policies in the region. So it is more likely that local intellectuals and political activists in this region give their support to, at least, two current parliament members if they stand as parliament candidate and are qualified by the Guardian Council.[7]

 

 

The meaning of ”crisis” in Kuwait

By: Jon Nordenson

Once again, political “crisis” looms over Kuwait, with some commentators suggesting that parliament soon will be dissolved, and new elections held. Yet, in light of the past five years in Kuwaiti politics, this can hardly be termed a “crisis”. Rather, it is politics as usual.

The background for the current crisis is the alleged transfer of approximately KD 25 million ($ 91 million) from government funds to two pro-government MPs. Obviously, this is a serious issue, and in many people’s eyes a confirmation of the corruption they see in every aspect of the Kuwaiti state. Not surprisingly, the scandal has provoked many initiatives from oppositional MPs and activists.

For one thing, opposition MPs have called for an emergency session on the issue, in order to debate this particular incident and to pass new laws to prevent corruption and money laundering. According to Kuwaiti law, an emergency session must be held if at least 33 MPs sign the proposal. So far, 29 MPs have signed, with about 20 pro-government MPs rejecting the initiative, at least for now. One might question whether or not this is a wise approach on part of the government; with such serious accusations, it should be in everyone’s interest to investigate them properly. Moreover, given the recent crisis combined with a fresh report from the IMF criticizing Kuwait for not doing enough to hinder money laundering and terror-financing, new laws on these issues might be a very good idea. It should of course be noted here that the government may agree with the need for a debate on the issue as well as to review country’s legal framework, even though it does not agree on the need for an emergency session.

The scandal has provoked other initiatives as well; a website launched by activists in the country encourage MPs to sign a pledge to provide the authorities with access to their bank accounts, in order to clear themselves from any suspicion of being involved in the scandal. Many MPs have signed similar pledges on their own initiative as well. Moreover, a large demonstration against corruption is planned for the 16th of September. And, of course, the scandal has provoked new istijwabat, that is, interpellations against cabinet ministers, in this case the PM himself.

As I have written earlier, Kuwaiti MPs have a constitutional right to question cabinet ministers on a particular issue, and the questioning may be followed by a vote of confidence. Previously, these interpellations have been a constant source of “crisis” in Kuwait, in that they have provoked the resignation of ministers, the entire cabinet and even the dissolution of parliament when the minister in question stands to lose the vote of confidence. It has been, for quite a few years, the weapon of choice for the opposition. This time, the interpellation on the 25 millions comes in addition to two other interpellations already presented against the PM, and they will almost certainly be followed by a vote of no confidence.

Thus, “crisis” is looming again, and as mentioned, many commentators have predicted the dissolution of the parliament and early elections. But this in itself is nothing out of the ordinary. Since the parliament was reinstated after the war in 1992, only to parliaments have completed their 4-year terms. Since 2003, there have been held four elections in Kuwait. Accordingly, there would be nothing extraordinary about early elections, and it can hardly be said to constitute a “crisis”, as a “crisis” implies that something extraordinary has taken place.

However, this is not to say that Kuwaiti politics is not in a state of crisis. The constant bickering between parliament and government seems to prevent any real development from taking place. The government seems unable to govern an unruly parliament, while the parliament is prevented by law from governing (the Kuwaiti government is not based on a parliamentary majority, it is named directly by the Emir. The parliament for their part has largely negative powers). The result is that nothing much happens; the grand development scheme adopted by the parliament earlier has not yet materialized, in fact, the PM just ordered a report on why it has not yet materialized. And, as the statistics mentioned above clearly shows; neither party is willing to give in, and the result is deadlock and “crisis”. Moreover; the level of corruption revealed in this latest scandal is hardly an asset in Kuwait’s stated bid to become a “financial hub” in the region. In all, crisis may be a fitting description of the state of Kuwaiti politics, but the constant “crisis” between parliament and government is merely a symptom of more fundamental problems.

Kuwait: reforms still going strong?

By: Jon Nordenson

Following three years of political turmoil, the parliament installed by the 2009 elections has proven to be a more stable one, with less focus on ”crisis” and more on passing laws. So far, a new labor law, a five-year development plan, and even a draft of a privatization bill have all passed through parliament. Confidence in the cooperation between parliament and government seems to be high, and HH the Emir has expressed his hope that the current parliament completes its four year term. If so, it would be the first time in years. Yet, as the MPs reconvene following the Eid al-Adha holiday, clouds may be looming on the horizon.

 

For one thing, there is the ever present threat of  “grillings”, that is, interpellations directed at cabinet ministers by MPs. As I’ve written earlier, such motions may be followed by a vote of no confidence directed at the minister in question, and have notoriously lead to political crisis earlier. However, following the 2009 elections, this seems to have changed. Instead of resigning (or HH the Emir dissolving parliament), the cabinet has chosen to face both interpellations and any following votes on confidence, though making sure they had the backing of a majority of the MPs (though some MPs reportedly have claimed that the government “buys” the support of other MPs). By doing so, crisis have been averted, and the parliament and the government have been able to carry on.

 

These days, a number of interpellations are reportedly being prepared by various MPs, prompting the Kuwait Times to announce the “grilling season”. The question is then, naturally, whether or not the cabinet and the parliament will manage to avoid crisis this time around? An intriguing article in Kuwait Times suggests so; negotiations are going on behind the scene, so that the interpellations can be held without the government running to big a risk.

 

Another potential cloud on the horizon lies in the implementation of the reforms themselves. It has not yet been determined how the development plan, which is intended to turn Kuwait into a financial hub of the region and drastically increase the country’s non-oil income, is to be financed. The discussions concentrate on a development fund, as well as the establishment of several companies, whose shares are to be made available to ordinary Kuwaitis. Yet, no complete plan for funding has so far been presented to parliament by the government.  The process has already been going on for months, and inevitably raises the question of whether the government and the parliament will be able to see the project through. Kuwait’s past record might suggest that the answer is no.

 

Then again, things do seem to be different with this parliament. Perhaps as a result of the constant “crisis” between 2006 and 2009, this parliament and this government seems determined to be more constructive and produce results. There seems to be a majority of the MPs (though with some changes from issue to issue) inclined to support government initiatives and to prevent crisis as a result of interpellations. Yet, if this new found pragmatism if to be successful, the projects of the government and the parliament must be realized.

The Implications of the New Election Law in Iran

By: Yadullah Shahibzadeh

A few weeks ago the Iranian parliament passed a new election law on simultaneous presidential and local elections. This new law has two obvious outcomes. The first outcome of the new law is postponement of the expected local elections in the early 2011 for two years. The second outcome of the election law is that the current members of the local councils keep their seat until June 2013.[1]

The main argument supporting the parliament decision concerning the new election law was that frequent elections in Iran generate unnecessary political excitement and extreme politicization in the Iranian society and the political system. According to this argument the ‘over-politicization’ of the political system has been the main cause of the underperformance of the executive branch.

Despite the serious political dispute which started since the 2009 presidential elections neither the reform oriented minority in the parliament nor did the leaders of the opposition such as Mousavi and Karubi oppose the suspension of the 2011 local elections. In fact the new election law had little to do with the political crisis that followed the last presidential election. The silence of the reform oriented political forces on the issue seems to indicate their indifference to the elections or their distrust in any election that the current government might hold.

One expects that Ahamdinezhad’s government supports the new election law and its consequence namely the delay in the local elections which could give his government more space to continue its work without unexpected political excitements which could pose a threat to his government. But, surprisingly he opposed the new election law.[2] Why did Ahmadinezhad oppose a law which seemed to have deprived his opponents another opportunity to assemble their forces and challenge his government in every single community throughout Iran?

In fact Ahamdinezhad had no problem with the simultaneous presidential and local elections.[3] His main problem was with the continuation of the current councils for two more years. He hoped to get rid of the rest of his opponents in the local councils. Ahamdinezhad is well aware that the absolute majority of the members of the local councils in Iran are not his supporters. The current members of the councils belong either to the reform oriented forces or to the major moderate or pragmatic tendencies within the conservative faction. And now with the new election arrangement he has to live with them until his turn in office is over.

The disagreement between the Ahmadinezhad government on one side and the parliament and the Expediency Council on other side on the new election law is another expression of the political conflict which is going on within the conservative faction. While according to the new law the term of current councils is extended to 2013, Ahmadinezhad insisted on holding local elections as planned in the early 2011 even though the elected members of the councils had only two years to sit in the councils.

The decision to pass the new election law which includes postponing of the 201l local elections implies the distrust of the parliament and the Expediency Council in Ahmadinezhad’s government to hold a fair and free election by the accepted standards of electoral competition in the Islamic Republic. It seems that after the dispute over the 2009 presidential election results these institutions of the Islamic Republic cannot trust the Ahmadinezhad government to hold another election since they are afraid that instead of competitive local elections his government delivers an election with a surprising result in favor of his own government.

It seems that Ahmadinezhad has several reasons for his dissatisfaction with the local councils. He may consider these new institutions a threat to his authoritarian politics since the local councils remind him of the little support he has among the local population in general and among the local elite in particular. There are various concrete reasons for Ahmadinezhd’s lack of support in the local communities.

His government has a total disregard for local opinion and the expectations of the local elite. For instance, after his presidency in 2005, his government appointed a provincial governor for the southern province of Bushehr. Though the governor was conservative by orientation he received the support of the local elite. But this governor was not considered a loyal supporter of Ahmadinezhad, so he was replaced by a commander of the revolutionary guard in the summer of 2008.[4]

The reason for the replacement of a governor who received solid support of the local elite with a commander of the revolutionary guard seems to have become clear after the 2009 presidential election results. Here is a symptomatic question which can be applicable to any other province or region in Iran: Can we find a connection between the results of the 2009 presidential election in the pro-reform region of Bushehr and the replacement of a conservative but seemingly disloyal governor with a commander of the revolutionary guard?

[1] Khaney-e Melat, Khabar Gozariy-e Majles Shoray-e Eslami, 04.08.2010

[2] http://www.aftabnews.ir/vdcfxjdyew6dxva.igiw.html

[3] http://www.tabnak.ir/fa/pages/?cid=11919

[4] http://www.nasimjonoub.com/sardabir/showblog.asp?id=188


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