Kuwaiti elections: Results, indications
|Tuesday, May 19,2009 02:56|
|By Dr. Amr Abdul Karim|
Change is the key word to understand results of the latest parliamentary elections in Kuwait. Kuwait, the engine of the democratic rollercoaster in Arab Gulf countries has exploited it to rearrange the political landscape. Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed"s speech in the statement of dissolving the Assembly in 2008 reflected the leader"s feeling of dangers engulfing the country and the possible changes it may face.
The parliamentary elections- the third since June 2006, came after Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed dissolved parliament in March 2009 in the wake of a showdown between government and MPs due to uncalculated escalation. The MPs were piling up pressures while the ministris were snubbing them until the Kuwaiti political scene has been overshadowed by a crisis that forced five governments to step down and led to dissolving parliament three times. The speech of dissolving parliament was mainly a bias to people"s wishes and aimed to save the country from a political instability.
To understand results of the Kuwaiti elections, we should first understand the nature of the Kuwaiti political system. It is a system wich is based on a kind of historic uniqueness related to the nature of forming the country since it merged in the 16th century, first under the name of Al Kut (castle) then Kuwait. The political authority was based on some sort of a historical contract between the ruler and the ruled, a voluntary pledge of allegiance from residents who were mainly merchants, and the rulers of Al Sabah"s dynasty who were given the authority of running the state affairs, including foreign relations and tax collecting. In 1921, the country"s first Advisory Council was established to highlight the strong relation between people"s right to take part in the decision-making process and the regime"s right to run the country, in a bid to establish a system that makes a balance between the ruler"s authorities and the ruled rights. Therefore, it was normal that the first Gulf elected parliament emerged in Kuwait in 1963, and this parliament enjoyed powers which are rarely given in our Arab world.
Kuwaiti constitution bans founding parties but political opposition has a strong presence in the form of blocs that shape the political landscape in Kuwait. Opposition doesn"t constitute one single party or movement. Sunni Islamists include: The Islamic Constitutional Movement (Muslim Brotherhood), and the Salafist movement who are divided among the Salafi Islamic Alliance, and the Salafi Gathering , and Shiites (about 30 %) include: The National Islamic Alliance, and the National Islamic Charter, in addition to many liberal cross-sectarian powers including: (the Democratic Forum, the Popular Action Bloc, National Action Bloc). There are also the independent and government-leaning MPs. Add to this tribal candidates.
In 1960s and 1970s, Kuwaiti tribes were fielding pro-government traditional MPs, while opposition was among urban MPs. However, since 1980s and with the relatively increasing weight of the Islamic movement among tribes the tribal MPs started to become more opposing to government.
"Surprise" is the key word to results of Kuwait elections 2009 but it is a surprise for those who can"t read the future well. Kuwait has been "pregnant" and has been experiencing a continuous "labor", till it delivered these results. The results of the elections reflect well this state of "labor" that Kuwait has been experiencing in the past months.
210 candidates- including 16 women candidates- ran fo these elections. They were competing on 50 seats in the National Assembly. These candidates represented the Kuwaiti political spectrum- all ideologies, movements and figures- and tribal, sectarian social divisions played a decisive role in the election results.
The most important result of 2009 elections is the success of Kuwaiti women as 4 female candidates ( 8 % out of the Assembly MPs) managed to win seats previously monopolized by male MPs for the first time in the history of Kuwaiti parliamentary elections.
Although many indications were showing that women will win in these elections, a lot of these expectations were divorced from reality, as the Kuwaiti woman was on the verge of garnering a seat in the Assembly of 2008 when Dr. Asil Al Awadi got the eleventh placing.
The rise of Shiite MPs is a landmark in 2009 elections although it was expected because of the sectarian divide recently overshadowing Kuwait. The Shiite presence doubled in the Assembly from five to nine, a very big jump in the Shiite representation. That most Shiite MPs regain their seats means that their grassroots approve their attitudes. This means there is a popular readiness for a sectarian divide.
The Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM) was the biggest loser in 2009 elections. ICM"s election seat loss was expected by many Kuwaiti observers. The movement whose number of MPs dropped from 6 MPs in 2006 Assembly to three in 2008 Assembly was expected to lose more after the suspicions triggered around some Ministry of Petroleum"s projects involved a key figure in the movement and after the government cancelled some deals and then after the movement joined the chorus of grilling the Prime Minister after refusing to take part in the government.
But to restrict the parliamentary representation of a structured, disciplined and organized movement like ICM to on member MP in 2009 assembly Gamaan Al-Harbash who success wasn’t mainly attained by his party affiliation. An investigation should be held for a self-criticism to review the movement"s path, policies and method of work.
As for the Salafist movement whose might in 2008 Assembly reached their objection to appointing sheikh Nasser Al Mahamad, a Prime Minister, and fielding their top figure Khaled Al-Sultan for a vice speaker spot, it has retreated and most of its candidates failed and Al-Sultan won in a back placing in the second constituency, Ali Al Omair came tenth in the third constituency. Dr. Walid Al Tabatabay (Salafi Movement) won in the ninth placing. This refelcts a retreat for Salafist movement MPs. Generally speaking, the the number of Sunni Islamists dropped from 21 seats in 2008 Assembly to 11 in 2009 Assembly.
Landmarks of 2009 elections include the big tribal control over the election process (tribal candidates garnered 25 seats out of 50 seats in the parliament). Thus, the tribes have managed to recreate their instruments to secure a heavy presence in the political landscape. The tribes have insisted on holding by-elections to secure consensus-approved candidates inside the tribe. With our full respect to privacies of the Kuwaiti society and its main components including the tribe, but the heavy politicization of the tribe may lead to sidelining national efficient people who have no wide tribal grassroots to reach parliament. There is sometimes a preference to tribal affiliation at the expense of national interests. This may prevent from creating national MPs who represent the nation as a whole and offer general and serious economic and political platforms instead of caring for narrower interests.Add to this the fact that the tribal basis of elections denied small tribes or those that did not hold by-elections the chance to have parliamentary representation.
Landmarks of 2009 Assembly elections include the continuous political role played by money, whether in terms of depending on the so called election keys- due to family, social, administrative positions- or the increasing cost of election campaigns. This may reinforces chances of the rich.
The government contributed to bringing to success candidates who were detained because of what they said in election rallies, two of three candidates who were detained garnered seats, while the third ( Khalifa Al Kharafi ) did not succeed because he preferred to withdraw before the beginning of the elections. Khaled Al Tahous and Daifallah Bourmia who were detained in the state security succeeded in their constituencies. This confirms that their detention reinforced chances of their success.