Opposition makes comeback in Kuwait snap elections

Sunday 04/12/2016
Safa al-Hashem, the only woman elected, celebrates with her supporters following the announcment of her victory in the parliamentary election, in Kuwait city, on November 27th. (AFP)

London - After a three-year ab­sence from parliament, Kuwait’s opposition members and their al­lies will return to the Gulf country’s political arena, win­ning 24 of the 50 assembly seats at stake in the seventh general elec­tions in a decade.
One-third of the new parlia­ment’s members will be newcom­ers and most of the seats won by the opposition will go to Muslim Brotherhood-linked candidates and Salafists.
Safa Abdul Rahman al-Hashem became the ninth woman to be elected to the Kuwaiti parliament since women first voted in 2006. Hashem was the only female can­didate to win out of 15 who stood for the November 26th elections in which 70% of the eligible voters cast ballots.
Political parties in the traditional sense are banned in Kuwait, mak­ing the opposition in parliament an unofficial marriage of conveni­ence between segments of Kuwaiti society often with contradicting political inclinations — a mix of lib­erals, nationalist and conservative Islamists mainly affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Kuwait’s Shia minority community saw its parliamentary representation drop from nine to six seats.
The parliamentary elections dominated social media ahead of the vote, with sentiments con­veyed ranging from the hailing of the democratic process to warning of electoral fraud or voting based on tribal affiliations.
“When you cast your ballot, re­member your children and that you will go and the homeland will remain; at this moment you will get to know who you will vote for in order to stop the depletion of this nation that deserves good,” Mona al-Omran wrote on her Twit­ter account. Youseif al-Hqqan posted: “May God help whoever seeks to serve this country.”
A matter of great concern for Kuwaitis has been voter fraud, par­ticularly the practice of offering cash for votes, with a quote from George Orwell trending heavily in Arabic. “A people that elect corrupt politicians, impostors, thieves and traitors are not victims… but ac­complices,” it says.
Voting based on tribal allegianc­es also weighed heavily on some minds. “The electoral process has deviated from its course. I see de­mocracy in the ugliest image when some prioritise loyalty to the tribe and the sect. And the nation re­mains suffering from them,” stu­dent Abdullah al-Mani said.
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.
Before it was dissolved, the par­liament had planned to question several government officials re­garding austerity measures, par­ticularly the escalating price of petrol, and alleged financial viola­tions. Historically, the submission of motions for such questioning by MPs resulted in the dissolution of parliament by the emir, who has final say on such matters.
Although the new MPs have yet to be sworn in and any calls for questioning government officials will not be made before parlia­mentary sessions begin, members of the opposition have pledged to block austerity measures designed to boost non-oil revenue.
Parliament is controlled by pro-government lawmakers and ulti­mate power still remains with the emir.
A new 15-member cabinet ap­pointed by Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Hamad al-Sabah is ex­pected to be announced before December 11th.