In Kuwait’s second election in less than two years, voters decided to shake up the assembly, electing two women, two conservative Islamists, and other candidates, according to results announced on Friday.
The outcome of the vote on Thursday, which will add 27 new members to the 50-member assembly, was viewed as a call for change in the midst of a protracted stalemate between the Cabinet, which is chosen by the royal family, and the 50-member assembly, which is democratically elected and more independent than similar bodies in the region.
Growing accusations about government corruption appear to have influenced voters’ decisions. Kuwait’s Islamist opposition routinely questions ministers about their role in the improper use of public funds while accusing the government of corruption and poor management.
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But experts say such candidates could push back on social reforms and protections of women’s rights and freedoms.
“If those candidates come forth with conservative social positions it will divide those who are pushing for reforms,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
She mentioned that a “values pledge” that asks for gender segregation in Kuwaiti schools and a prohibition on mixed dance parties was signed by 17 elected MPs, which has drawn considerable criticism. Candidates who were prepared to make this a sharply divisive topic fared well.
After the single female representative in the assembly lost her seat in the most recent elections in 2020, two other women were also elected.
Kuwaiti women are becoming more and more irate that the conservative society’s laws protecting women from assault and so-called honour killings have not been passed by the government.
The new assembly will include 27 new members, around a dozen of whom served in previous assemblies, local media reported.
Although Kuwait boasts the most open and engaged assembly in the Persian Gulf, political power is still largely held by the Al Sabah family, who also have the authority to dissolve the assembly at any moment and pick the prime minister and Cabinet.
The sick 85-year-old emir, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, has been replaced by the 82-year-old crown prince Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmed Al Jaber, who called Thursday’s elections earlier this year when he dissolved parliament.
The long-standing political impasse in Kuwait has gotten worse since the passing of the former emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, two years ago. Ministers have quit out of frustration after being grilled by lawmakers over alleged wrongdoing.
This could refer to the dissolution of the legislature by royal or constitutional order.
The threat is constant, according to Diwan. “These two branches of government must cooperate for the benefit of Kuwaitis.”
Despite having enormous oil resources, the parliament has been unable to implement fundamental economic changes, such as a public debt law that would allow borrowing by the government, which has resulted in the depletion of its general reserve fund.
Kuwait is home to 13,500 American service members and has the sixth-largest known oil reserves in the world.
(With inputs from agencies)
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