Kuwait gears up for parliamentary elections
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.