Kuwait held an election on Tuesday amid a long-standing conflict between the ruling family and assertive lawmakers. The judicial system recently dissolved the legislature, which has led to voters going to the polls for the third time in as many years. Although Kuwait is the only Gulf Arab country to have a democratically elected assembly which offers some checks on the ruling monarchy, the political system has been in gridlock in recent years due to infighting. Therefore, there is not much hope for change, which may lower voter turnout and the number of candidates running. The results of the election are expected on Wednesday.
The last parliamentary election, held eight months ago, resulted in a mandate for change with 27 new lawmakers, including conservative Islamists and two women, joining the assembly. However, in March, Kuwait’s Constitutional Court abolished the decree dissolving the previous parliament, which means the parliament elected in 2020 has been restored. Following this decision, the ruling Al Sabah family dissolved parliament for the second time in 2022, leading to this week’s vote.
Kristin Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, suggests that the managerial conflict is due to divisions within the ruling family resulting from the death in 2020 of Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, a veteran diplomat who had ruled the country for almost 15 years. His 91-year-old half-brother, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, succeeded him, with Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah taking on day-to-day responsibilities. Both are in their 80s, and there is no clear line of succession following Sheikh Meshal. Another member of the royal family, Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al Sabah, the current emir’s son, was appointed prime minister in 2022 but has recently come under criticism.
The prime minister and cabinet members are appointed by the emir, who can dissolve parliament. However, lawmakers can approve or block legislation, question ministers, and call for their removal. Two former parliamentary speakers, Marzouq al-Ghanim and Ahmed al-Saadoun, are hoping to return to the relatively influential office.
While Kuwait has the sixth-largest oil reserves and is among the world’s richest countries, with welfare for its 1.5 million citizens, many believe the government has failed to invest in education, healthcare, and other services. Opposition figures are calling for electoral reforms, including the inclusion of more women and young people in the Assembly, while some want a return to an earlier system where people could vote for more than one candidate in their district.