Kuwait gears up for parliamentary elections

Sunday 20/11/2016
Kuwaitis attending election campaign meeting for Kuwaiti Islamist Osama al-Manawer

LONDON - With austerity meas­ures taking hold in Kuwait, the small oil-rich Gulf coun­try is gearing up for its third parliamentary elections in less than five years. A total of 454 candidates, including 15 women, have registered to stand in polls No­vember 27th, which many say will result in a parliament less friendly to the government.

Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Ah­mad al-Jaber al-Sabah dissolved parliament in October and called for new elections. “Due to the deli­cate regional developments and the need to face the dangers of security challenges, it became necessary to go back to the people… to elect their representatives… and contribute to confronting those challenges,” al- Sabah said in a statement.

The decree was preceded by a call from National Assembly Speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim for snap elec­tions, stressing that in the current economic and security climate, a parliament was required to impose “a state of political stability”.

Before it was dissolved, the Ku­waiti parliament, which is consid­ered one of the most powerful in the Arab world, planned to ques­tion several government officials regarding the economy, including on the escalating price of petrol and alleged financial violations. The submission of motions for such questioning by MPs has historically led to the dissolution of Kuwait’s parliament by the emir.

Factoring heavily on Kuwaiti minds are austerity measures im­posed across the six Gulf Coopera­tion Council (GCC) members. As a part of economic reforms intended to counter falling oil prices, Ku­wait’s parliament voted in August to hike petrol prices more than 80%.

Kuwait, which is projected to have a deficit of $29 billion this fis­cal year, has been urged by the In­ternational Monetary Fund (IMF) to enact further subsidy reforms to trim that deficit, despite the po­litically sensitivities involved. The IMF stressed in its latest report that Kuwait’s “fiscal and external ac­counts have deteriorated marked­ly” and that further subsidy reform is “critical”.

Despite the Kuwaiti government approving a detailed economic re­form plan, which included massive subsidy cuts, parliament fiercely opposed the plan and the majority of those running in the next elec­tions are expected to do the same.

“We won’t allow the government to plug the budget deficit from the pockets of citizens,” candidate Ja­mal al-Omar was reported as saying by Agence France-Presse.

A legal committee barred 47 would-be candidates from running for the 50-seat parliament. A gov­ernment statement said 31 were barred because of previous con­victions. Among the barred candi­dates was former MP Abdulhameed Dashti, who has been living in the United Kingdom since March and was sentenced to 14 years hard la­bour for insulting Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Dashti also called on Kuwaitis to join the “Syrian jihad” in support of the government of President Bashar Assad.

Dashti was convicted under a Ku­waiti law that allows individuals to be prosecuted for what is viewed as hostile acts against a foreign coun­try that might jeopardise diplomat­ic relations or lead to war.

Another factor in the snap elec­tions is the security situation in Kuwait.

In 2015, a member of the Islamic state (ISIS) carried out a suicide bomb attack in Kuwait that tar­geted a Shia mosque and killed 27 worshippers and injured hundreds of others.

After the mosque bombing and the ensuing public outcry, security agencies launched a crackdown re­sulting in the dismantling of a num­ber of alleged terrorist cells affili­ated with ISIS and other terrorist organisations, such as Iran-affiliat­ed Hezbollah.

US officials have previously said Qatar and Kuwait were not doing enough to stop the funding of ISIS. David Cohen, US Treasury under­secretary for terrorism and finan­cial intelligence, lauded the coop­eration from some Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but said Qatar and Kuwait were “permissive jurisdic­tions for terrorist financing”. Ku­waiti authorities have pledged to stop ISIS from obtaining funding from within Kuwait’s borders.