Kuwaiti elections Saturday will be first test for emir, crown prince

Muslim Brotherhood seen jockeying to widen influence through elections.
Friday 04/12/2020
Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah attends the opening session of the country’s National Assembly (parliament) in Kuwait City on October 20, 2020. (AFP)
Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah attends the opening session of the country’s National Assembly (parliament) in Kuwait City on October 20, 2020. (AFP)

KUWAIT – On Saturday, Kuwaitis will head to polling stations to choose fifty members of parliament representing the five electoral districts. Once the results are in, the current government will resign, preparing the terrain for the formation of a new government that will have to be approved by the new parliament.

Kuwaiti political sources said that these coming elections are of special importance to the country given that an alliance of extremist religious forces including the Muslim Brotherhood will try to use them to test the new emir, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah's orientations towards them and how much wiggle room they might have to push their agenda forward.

The sources further indicated that the same forces will also test the seriousness of the new crown prince, Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, and how determined he is to stand up to them and put a stop to any attempts to expand their influence.

The new Kuwaiti National Assembly will be an exceptional assembly in view of the internal and external circumstances surrounding its election, as it is the first in the new “Nawaf I era," to borrow the moniker given by Kuwaitis to the rule of the new emir and his crown prince.

The political changes that have occurred at the top echelons of Kuwaiti authority will certainly cast a shadow over political change at the legislative and executive branches.

Accordingly, members of the new assembly must go through a testing phase to gauge the new leadership's patience and work to stabilise matters in the country’s current difficult economic and social conditions.

Anyone familiar with Kuwait is aware of the significant change in the tiny emirate caused by the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis and the collapse of oil prices. The best evidence for this is the controversy surrounding belt-tightening proposals, the government’s resort to borrowing and new taxes, loss of jobs and huge losses resulting from a decline in all productive sectors.

Analysts say the situation means there is not much room for haggling in parliament, as there has been in the past. Rather, there seems to be a need for real partnership between the legislative and executive branches based on facts and reality in order to ensure stability.

A billboard featuring a candidate running for Kuwait’s parliamentary elections on a Kuwait city street. (AFP)
A billboard featuring a candidate running for Kuwait’s parliamentary elections on a Kuwait city street. (AFP)

The country's different political forces are working to secure a foothold in the next assembly. At the forefront of these forces is the Muslim Brotherhood organisation, which in Kuwait goes by the name the Islamic Constitutional Movement, or Hadas for short. The movement is hoping to have 3 to 5 of its candidates elected, and will then seek to form a “conservative alliance” in the new assembly with winners from the other currents of political Islam (some Salafists and candidates from the Ummah’s Constants). Their next step would be to form an opposition bloc of about 20 MPs with the aim of introducing changes, including amending the single vote electoral system and pardoning the arrested opposition members. The Muslim Brothers would then begin bargaining with authorities over many projects and laws.

The post-election course will be linked to two things. The first is the ability of the opposition forces -- at the forefront of which is the Muslim Brotherhood -- to achieve success in the elections and the alliances that result from them. The second is the way files will be managed during the new era in Kuwait, and whether forces will be allowed to expand at the expense of stability. Kuwait's experience in 2011 showed that such an expansion was more of a pickaxe that could have demolished the country’s institutions had it not been for the  leadership of the late Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah at the time.

Observers of Kuwaiti affairs say the country needs to bypass the atmosphere of confrontation that has characterised the relationship of the National Assembly with the government in recent years, as the presence of a parliament that has fewer differences with the government and is more compatible with it would be a catalyst for political stability. It would also help the country devote itself to addressing its various crises.

On Wednesday, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah announced his government’s decision to resign next Sunday, straight after the announcement of the results of parliamentary elections when the government holds a final session to approve the results.

Critics say the current government has neither been more efficient than its predecessors nor less quarrelsome with parliament. There have been renewed conflicts in recent months between the sheikhs of the ruling family, as well as explosive revelations of several corruption cases, some  inside the security services.