KUWAIT, Elections and Parliament
The Parliament of Kuwait is unicameral.
- Name of Parliament: the National Assembly (Al Majlis Al-Umma)
- Number of seats: 50
- Term of legislature: 4 years
- Required age for voting: 21
- Required age for membership: 30
Kuwait was the first country to have an elected parliament in the Arab Gulf region in 1963 (1). The current Parliament is the 10th since the independence of Kuwait in 1961. The Parliament was suspended by the Amir from 1976 to 1981 and from 1986 to 1991.
Voters elect mouvements or tendencies rather than political parties, divided roughly along pro-Western liberal lines, islamists and independents. Several traditional groupings or quasi-political organizations exist and political parties are tolerated but not formally allowed. Candidates usually run as independents. Local tribal loyalties play a key part when voters cast their ballots.
Kuwaiti Democratic Forum: Group of arab nationalist figures who purusue a secularist, Arab nationalist agenda. They have often criticised cabinet ministers. They have called for the extension of voting right to women and the legalisation of political parties. This liberal group were one of the strongest supporters for the separation of the post of premiership from the crown prince.
The Islamic Constitutional Movement: Islamist movement based on the Sunnite population and it is said to be the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Islamic Popular Movement: Sunnite islamist grouping.
- National Islamic Coalition: Shiite islamist movement. (Shiite population in Kuwait is estimated to be between 25% and 35%).
- The Constitutional Bloc: Movement representing the country’s powerful merchant families.
- Tribal groupings: They held a sort of primaries and agree to vote for certain a candidate. Although once in Parliament, the deputy can ally himself with either the government or the islamists, the protection of tribal interests remains the main goal.
- Independents: Candidates with no specific classification, although once in Parliament they ally with groups.
The pre-election period of the 1996 legislative elections was marked by gatherings of women demanding political rights, including the suffrage.
On 4 May 1999 Amir Jaber al-Sabah dissolved the previous parliament to bring an end to more than two years of conflict between opposition MP’s and the government (in which al-Sabah family members had key portofolios: oil, finance, defence, interior and foreign affairs).
The Amiri decree of 16 May 1999 intending to give women the right to vote and run for the elections of 2003 was rejected by the new parliament on November 30, 1999 (32 against, 30 in favour, 2 abstentions). Liberal, pro-governmental and Shia islamists parliamentarians were in favour of the decree while Sunni islamists and tribal MP’s opposed it. The rejection seemed motivated mostly by a refusal to confirm a decree of the Amir and a new proposal, written by a committee of the Assembly, could be considered in the near future. The number of female voters is estimated at 137.000.
2003 elections were the first without Saddam Hussein ’s shadow. The absence of the ‘great danger’, which had dominated Kuwaiti politics for a decade, opened the way for some freedom and vitality in the Parliament.
On the day of the elections, hundreds of women staged their own elections to highlight their demand for political representation. They mostly elected for liberal candidates (it was the Islamic and tribal tendencies who stood against the decree offering women voting rights, issued by the Amir of Kuwait in 1999).
The changes in the region were expected to foster the liberal mouvement and thus fovorise political reforms in the Emirate. However, the liberals were nearly left out from the parliament, keeping only two of the eight seats they hold in previous assembly. Islamic traditionalists, both Sunni and Shia, and the pro-cabinet candidates were the winners of these elections. The government’s firmer control of the current legislature makes it easier to pass long-delayed economic reforms, including the sale of state utilities.
(1) Bahrain was the second country in the Gulf to have an elected Assembly (1973) but also the first to dissolve it (1975). Bahrain hold legislative elections again in October 2002.