Ghanim re-elected Kuwaiti parliament speaker after tough battle

The opposition’s reactions after the voting session carried a veiled threat to the government that it would pay the price for its vote for Marzouq al-Ghanim, who recedived 33 votes in his favour, against 28 votes for his rival Badr al-Humaidi.
Wednesday 16/12/2020
Kuwaiti MP Marzouq al-Ghanim supporters celebrate his victory for the Parliament speaker election, December 15, 2020. (AFP)
Kuwaiti MP Marzouq al-Ghanim supporters celebrate his victory for the Parliament speaker election, December 15, 2020. (AFP)

KUWAIT – The features of the tough election battle at the new Kuwaiti National Assembly on Tuesday reflected the new leadership’s insistence on a policy of transparency in decision-making. Marzouq al-Ghanim won a second mandate as parliament speaker by receiving 33 votes in his favour, against 28 votes for his rival Badr al-Humaidi. Three ballots were discarded.

Despite attempts by certain MPs to sabotage the session before it started, it was noticeable that a number of MPs who had publicly pledged with the opposition bloc to remove Ghanim ended up either voting for him or wrote the names of both candidates, which nullified their ballots in the final count.

All members of the opposition bloc had pledged to photograph their ballots to prove they had fulfilled their commitment to vote against Ghanim, despite the unconstitutionality of the move. But it seems that at least three of them wrote Humaidi’s name on their ballot, photographed it and then added Marzouq’s name, nullifying their ballots.

The opposition’s reactions after the voting session carried a veiled threat to the government that it would pay the price for its vote for Ghanim, but the government, whose president, Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah, delivered a distinguished statement in which he spoke of the real challenges facing Kuwait internally and externally and the need to confront them, seems to have received the green light from the country’s political leadership to forge ahead in earnest without paying any attention to parliamentary threats.

Kuwaiti MP Marzouq al-Ghanim (L) is congratulated by a fellow MP after his victory for the Parliament speaker election, December 15, 2020. (AFP)
Kuwaiti MP Marzouq al-Ghanim (L) is congratulated by a fellow MP after his victory for the Parliament speaker election, December 15, 2020. (AFP)

Kuwait’s political leadership viewed with apprehension the opposition’s rhetoric and their agenda based on the promise to kill the projects of loans, pass a general amnesty for members of the opposition and other politicians who were sentenced by Kuwaiti courts and who fled to Turkey and to amend the law on cybercrime and electoral districts.

A Kuwaiti political source asked, “What does it mean to block the loans in a country that needs to garner every financial resource to overcome its economic crisis, and do these populist calls contribute to finding economic solutions or are they mere acts of sterile bidding?”

In a statement to The Arab Weekly, the Kuwaiti political source described Ghanim’s re-election as speaker and the valuable speech by Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah as indications that the features of the coming stage in Kuwait are going to be “dreams and determination.”

The same source quoted the Emir’s speech at the opening of parliament: “There is no doubt that you are aware of what the world and the region in particular are witnessing in terms of new developments, and you have enormous challenges ahead of you, and there is no longer room for wasting more effort, time and potentials on meaningless conflicts, settling scores and fabricating crises.”

Sheikh Nawaf had warned against practices and behaviours by some inside the parliament that have become the subject of discontent and frustration of citizens, and an obstacle to any achievement.

Observers say that after the National Assembly elections on Tuesday, Kuwait is at a crossroads. Either all MPs, especially the figures of escalation, read the emir’s speech carefully and start working in earnest on the country’s problems or turn the hall of parliament into an arena for auctions and conflicts, in which case the country’s leadership will have no choice but to resort to tough solutions

In his speech to the new parliament, Sheikh Nawaf said that there is a need to develop a comprehensive reform programme to help the country get out of its worst economic crises in decades, and that there was no time “for fabricating crises.”

“Our dear country’s march is suffering from serious problems and faces great challenges, which necessitate that we immediately implement a comprehensive reform program,” the emir added.

Sheikh Nawaf’s speech shows the extent of the ambiguity surrounding the political crisis that Kuwait is experiencing and its future impact on the country, as the same people involved in this crisis are back on the scene again. The current emir was crown prince, and the prime minister has not changed, nor has the parliament speaker. In addition, we are again seeing the emergence of the same political problems and quarrels that are taking precedence over solving the economic crisis.

Previous escalations of disagreement and stalemate between the government and parliament led to several government changes and the dissolution of parliament, which impeded investment and economic and financial reform.

The Kuwaitis are betting that the emir can succesfully converge views between the government and parliament, and prevent a repeat of the scenarios of the past years.

Kuwait’s economy, which stands at nearly $ 140 billion, faces a deficit of $46 billion this year. One of the government’s priorities is to pass a bill that will allow Kuwait to borrow from global loan markets.

Observers believe that the continuation of the battle for dominance between the government and parliament during the coming period may lead to the dissolution of parliament and the holding of new elections in a fruitless vicious cycle.

While the government is looking for urgent reforms that respond to domestic and international economic changes, and may be forced into a harsh policy of austerity, the parliament continues to oppose any reforms that might affect the welfare system through which Kuwaitis get many benefits.

Government circles warn that continuing without reforms may impede the government’s ability to pay salaries.