Kuwaitis voted on Saturday for the fifth time in six years, in a vote boycotted by the opposition, which held a rally on Friday attended by factions from across the political spectrum, including youth movements, Islamists, and liberals. The opposition boycotted the election due to the Emir’s decree reducing the number of votes that each voter can cast from four to one, so the election was as much a referendum on the regime as an election campaign, because by participating, voters, and the candidates they supported were acquiescing (at least tacitly) in the Emir’s decree.
The results of this election should thus be taken with the understanding that they contests between regime supporters. However, it is important to analyze them to determine what they mean for the future of Kuwaiti politics, what it means for the nature of the regime’s backers, and what it reveals about the opposition. In particular with regards to the areas where the boycott was most widespread.
Electoral Laws and Procedure
Kuwait has approximately 1.2 million citizens, but only 422,000 are eligible to vote. The minimum age to vote is 21. Naturalized citizens must wait 20 years before being able to vote. Members of the armed forces are not permitted to vote. In this election, women were projected to make up around 54 percent of the overall electorate.
The National Assembly has a total of 50 members. The country is divided into five constituencies, with each constituency electing ten members to the National Assembly. In 2006, a new electoral law was passed that changed the format of Kuwait’s constituencies and voting rules. This law reduced the number of constituencies from 25 (2 members each) to 5 (10 members each) and increased the number of votes that each citizen could cast from one to four.
The government attempted to challenge the legitimacy of this electoral law this year, but the constitutional court rejected the challenge, despite previously dissolving the National Assembly elected in February 2012 on a technicality and reinstating the previous one. Subsequently, the Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah triggered the current political crisis by issuing a decree reducing the number of votes that each citizen was allowed to cast from four to one, and the opposition boycotted the election in protest.
There were a total of 308 candidates in five constituencies, competing for a total of 50 seats. The opposition claims that the election had a turnout of 26.7 percent, which would make it the lowest turnout election of any ever held in Kuwait. Official figures from the Ministry of Information give the turnout as 162,601 out of approximately 422,000 eligible voters, which would make the turnout about 38.5 percent.
According to Kuwait Times, the boycott was most effective in the Fourth and Fifth constituencies which have large tribal populations, and least effective in the First constituency, which has a significant Shi’ite population. The number of Shi’ite MPs increased to 15, from 7 in the February 2012 elections and 9 in the 2009 elections. Prominent Shi’ite MPs include Adnan Abdulsamad, Faisal Al-Duwaisan, Saleh Ashour, Hussein Al-Qallaf and Abdulhameed Dashti. Other successful candidates included Ali Al-Rashed, Ali Al-Omair, Ahmad Al-Mulaifi, and Askar Al-Enezi.
Sunni Islamists won 4 seats (down from 23), while tribal candidates won 19 seats, down from 25. It is important to note that three major tribes – the Awazem, Mutair, and Ajman, which altogether have approximately 400,000 members boycotted the election and did not elect a single MP. Four women were elected, as compared to zero in the election in February 2012.
Of the 24 candidates who were initially barred from running in the elections by the Interior Ministry and then subsequently reinstated by the courts, 9 were elected to the new parliament: Saleh Ashour (1st constituency), Yousef Al-Zalzaleh (1st), Saadoun Hamad Al-Otiabi (5th), Askar Al-Enezi (4th), Mubarak Al-Khurainej (4th), Khaled Adwa Al-Ajmi (5th), Nabil Al-Fadhel (3rd), Khaled Al-Shulaimi (4th), and Abdulhameed Dashti (1st).
In an election boycotted by the opposition, the government knew that it would have a new parliament dominated by supporters, but Kuwait’s political crisis is far from over, and new developments could lead to yet another election being called in the not-too-distant future, particularly a ruling by the Constitutional Court against the Emir’s decree, which would dissolve the newly-elected assembly and recall the 2009 National Assembly yet again.