Political System Challenges in Kuwait’s Stalemate


Analysis: Kuwait’s politically active parliament is unique in the Gulf, but near-constant tensions with the government and state lethargy in the face of social and economic reforms often lead to political paralysis.

In late June, Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, 81, announced the dissolution of the Kuwaiti parliament following a dispute with the government.

The dissolution was the result of an open sit-in inside the parliamentary complex by more than 16 lawmakers for eight days, who demanded the formation of a new government through elections.

Since the inauguration of the 16th legislature in December 2020, four cabinets have been formed, all of which have resigned. In the latest resignation, Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al Sabah presented his cabinet’s resignation to the Crown Prince on April 5, three months after he was sworn in.

Months earlier, in February, the interior and defense ministers had resigned in protest at parliament’s questioning of other ministers.

“Over the past two decades, there have been several crises between the parliament and the government in Kuwait, leading the Emir to dissolve parliament 10 times”

Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al Mohammed – a member of the royal family – was questioned by parliament earlier this month over allegations of corruption and embezzlement of public funds. He survived a vote of no confidence, but his questioning was branded an “abuse of power” by his fellow ministers.

With the resignation of the cabinet, it was agreed that the former prime minister would continue his work until the new government was in place, which caused a rift between parliament and the government.

Some lawmakers protested the decision and called on the emir to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

A single policy

Kuwait’s politically active parliament is unique in the Gulf, with 50 elected members.

“The Kuwaiti parliament is the most independent legislative body in the Gulf and has a history of opposing government policies through the use of strategies such as ‘toasting’ in which a minister is called to parliament to answer questions “, said Douglas Silliman, president of the Arab Gulf States Institute (AGSIW) and the former American ambassador to Kuwait and Iraq said The new Arabic.

The formation of parliament dates back to the history of Kuwait itself and its ruling dynasty, which necessitated the need for consultation.

Oliver John, president of Astrolabe Global Strategy and non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute, said TNA that in pre-oil times, merchant families were economically stronger than the ruling “Al-Sabah” family, which meant the need for the ruling family to consult the people.

After the discovery of oil, this balance might well have changed, but the role of citizens was instead protected in the Kuwaiti constitution and parliament found a valuable place in the Kuwaiti political landscape.

“Kuwaiti people were ready to push for their rights and make their voices heard. After Kuwait was liberated from the Iraqi invasion, the citizens of Kuwait pushed their leaders to restore parliament,” said Oliver John.

“Disenfranchised Kuwaiti women demonstrated for the right to vote…Kuwaiti women also pushed their parliamentary representatives to actively defend their interests.”

bitter conflicts

Nevertheless, over the past two decades, there have been several crises between parliament and the government of Kuwait, leading to the Emir dissolving parliament 10 times.

Conflicts between parliament and government have their origin in various factors. One of the main tensions is the lack of effort by political leaders and the ruler of Kuwait to implement political and economic reforms.

Kuwait has won a reputation as a conservative and somewhat lethargic Gulf emirate. As its neighbors rush into state-led economic diversification and energy transition projects, Kuwait sometimes seems content to settle into a rather comfortable retirement, with cash stashed away cautiously abroad.

“There are several reasons for Kuwait’s relative inaction on energy diversification and reform. There is a lack of urgency and commitment from senior leadership. In addition, many parliamentarians champion voter benefits without longer-term thinking,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, Senior Resident Scholar at AGSIW. TNA.

Kuwait’s politically active parliament is unique in the Gulf, with 50 elected members. [Getty]

The presence of a large number conservative Islamists – due to Kuwait’s relative political freedoms – and aging rulers have made Kuwait resistant to significant change and reform.

“Religious conservatism continues to resonate with many and finds expression through elected politicians,” Diwan said.

The second reason is the government’s lack of accountability. According to the tradition of all the kingdoms of the Persian Gulf, the government is not responsible to any national authority and, with its oil wealth, it sees no need to engage with the people and civil society.

This situation in Kuwait is better than others, but the government is still trying to avoid accountability to parliament.

“The government is not afraid of delay and obstruction tactics, such as not attending sessions or delaying arraignments,” said Luai Allarakia, a visiting assistant professor at the University of Richmond. TNA.

The government tries to disrupt the functions of parliament by influencing it and appointing its supporters, such as Marzouq Al-Ghanim, the speaker of parliament. The government interprets vague laws and regulations in its favor through the constitutional court and the assistance of the speaker of parliament, which damages the credibility of parliament.

This procedure has led to increasing conflicts between the government and parliament, and therefore the simplest solution is the repeated dissolution of parliament by the emir.

“Kuwait appears to be trapped in a cycle of parliaments defying ministers and the emir calling for new elections”

What happens next

The electoral system in Kuwait is tribal and ethnic, so there is a good chance that the opposition will be in the majority in the next elections, given the public spirit. As a result, society will likely again witness tensions between parliament and government.

The Kuwaiti parliament has many tools to exert influence on the government, but it is not able to form a government based on the will of the representatives or accountable to the parliament. This causes constant friction.

“Kuwait appears to be trapped in a cycle of parliamentary challenge by ministers and the emir calling for new elections,” Diwan said.

Moreover, the parliament of Kuwait does not enjoy a sense of unity. Like other Arab parliaments like Iraq, they often fail to reach consensus on issues, ethnic interests and differences of opinion ultimately undermining collective decision-making.

“The opposition is very fragmented and does not have a clear list of priorities and objectives beyond the removal of the Prime Minister (which has been achieved since he left office) and the removal of the President of parliament (which has technically been achieved but in reality former President Marzouq Al-Ghanim can still run for office to win and then run again for president and win) So really, the opposition announced no clear set of policies or reforms,” Allarakia said.

Dispute Resolution

Allarakia offers three solutions to resolve disputes between parliament and government. First, the ambiguous points of the constitution and the rules of procedure of the National Assembly should be amended to avoid arbitrary interpretations of the laws in favor of the government.

“There is a need for serious and in-depth reform of the rules of procedure of Parliament in order to streamline and clarify the legislative process in order to avoid conflicts over the parliamentary calendar and the order of bills”.

Second, a new law should be passed to recognize political parties that are currently banned in Kuwait. Through political parties, the government could more easily pursue negotiations with the opposition, and priorities could be determined based on party politics rather than personal differences.

And finally, it is necessary to review the process of interpellation, or “grilling”, in order to reduce its individualistic nature.

“The conflicts between parliament and the government are rooted in various factors. One of the main tensions is the lack of effort by political leaders and the ruler of Kuwait to implement political and economic reforms”

Arrests are particularly easy present to the National Assembly, only one member having to invoke this right.

Often manifesting in frustration at the inability to legislate, they can be motivated by personal rivalries, blackmail in retaliation against political enemies, or in exchange for personal favors, and even as a show of force towards voters..

The difficult process of disputes between the parliament and the government shows that the political climate in Kuwait has not yet reached maturity. However, Kuwaitis can make this new election an opportunity for political renewal.

Dr. Mohammad Salami holds a doctorate in international relations. He specializes in politics in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, Iran, Yemen and the Persian Gulf region. His areas of expertise include policy and governance, security and counter-terrorism.

Follow him on Twitter: @moh_salami

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