Sunday December 03, 2023

Two women elected as Kuwait opposition wins majority in parliament

October 01, 2022

KUWAIT CITY: Women returned to Kuwait’s national assembly on Thursday as the opposition won a majority in the Gulf’s only fully elected parliament, which held its sixth election in a decade.

Twenty-eight of the 50 seats were won by opposition candidates as 20 former MPs were ousted, including three former ministers. Kuwait, which borders Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran and is one of the world’s biggest oil exporters, has held 18 elections since the parliamentary system was adopted in 1962, reflecting its frequent political crises.

Victories for former minister Jenan Bushehri and Alia al-Khaled ensured a female presence in parliament after an all-male assembly was elected in 2020. Kuwait has never had more than four women MPs.

Two candidates won from prison, a first for Kuwait, after they were charged with participating in illegal by-elections. Hamid Mehri al-Badhali and Marzouq al-Khalifa were eligible to stand for election because their case does not affect honesty or honour, as per Kuwaiti law.

Shia candidates won nine seats, while Islamists -- Salafists, Muslim Brotherhood members and independents -- took eight. Ahmed Saadoun, the 87-year-old former speaker, returns to parliament after a decade-long boycott, having attracted more than 12,000 votes. Several opposition groups ended their boycott of the polls after Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al-Sabah vowed there would be no interference by authorities in the election or the new parliament.

Many opposition figures have stayed out of elections over the past 10 years, accusing executive authorities of meddling in the workings of parliament.Kuwait has the freest and most active assembly in the Persian Gulf, but political power is still largely concentrated in the hands of the ruling Al Sabah family, which appoints the prime minister and Cabinet, and can dissolve the assembly at any time.

Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmed Al Jaber, an 82-year-old who has assumed many of the duties of the ailing 85-year-old emir, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, called Thursday's elections earlier this year when he dissolved parliament.

Since the previous emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, died two years ago, Kuwait’s long-standing political deadlock has worsened. Lawmakers have grilled ministers over alleged corruption and ministers have resigned in exasperation.

Sheikh Meshal has vaguely threatened “forceful measures” if these elections fail to break the gridlock between the appointed Cabinet and the democratically elected assembly. In July, the ruling emir’s son, Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al Sabah, was named prime minister. The 66-year-old former deputy prime minister and interior minister was widely seen as a conservative yet popular choice.

The squabbling has prevented the assembly from passing basic economic reforms, including a public debt law that would allow the government to borrow money, leading to the depletion of its general reserve fund despite its vast oil wealth.