The Kuwaiti Election and Its Aftermath

On Tuesday, the Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, announced that all those who were jailed for insulting him would receive a pardon. The fact that this comes so quickly after an election indicates that it might be part of a strategy by the regime to reduce tensions. The pardon announcement includes one name and one group of people that are conspicuous for their absence – Musallam al-Barrak is not included, and neither are those who participated in the storming of parliament. The announcement was made in a speech in which the Emir said that he was issuing the pardon on the occasion of the final ten days of the month of Ramadan.

Barrak’s lawyer said that the reason is because there has been no final verdict in his case. It also appears not to apply to those who are facing pending charges – and in Kuwait, insulting the Emir is subject to a potential five year prison sentence.

The fact that these pardons come in the wake of an election is very interesting, and telling. In this most recent election there were slight gains by liberals, but many of the major opposition factions decided to boycott. The regime’s decision to pardon many of the defendants (but not Barrak) may be an attempt to divide the opposition’s supporters from the political figures who play a leading role in the movement. In the election, Shi’ite MPs won eight seats which is a major drop from 17 seats in the previous parliament. Three liberals were elected compared with zero before (the last election for the now-annulled parliament was boycotted) and, Sunni Islamists increased their total to seven seats after winning five previously.

The major change was that major tribes which boycotted last time decided to participate, as well as some liberal voters, boosting the turnout to 52.5 percent. There were several tribes that participated this time but did not do so the last time, including the Awazem, the Mutair, and the Rashaida, although their electoral success was relatively limited prompting some observers to argue that the recent electoral system places the largest tribes at a disadvantage. One interesting element about the tribal vote was that there were several smaller tribes that gained seats at the expense of their larger counterparts.

This election appears to over little in terms of a long term settlement of Kuwait’s political crisis. 26 out of 50 MPs are new compared to the previous parliament, but the Prime Minister was just reappointed by the Emir. What remains to be seen is if this election ushers in a phase of tenuous stability and if this is enough to enable the country to achieve the economic diversification that it desperately needs to reduce the impact of swings in the price of oil and other petroleum products.

Political Prospects for Kuwait’s Next Election

On Sunday, the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the Emir’s decree that reduced the number of votes for each citizen from four to one. However, it also dissolved the National Assembly elected in December 2010 on a technicality, and because it ruled that a decree that the Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, issued setting up a National Election Commission violated Kuwait’s constitution. New elections to replace the dissolved parliament must be held by August under Article 107 of Kuwait’s constitution.

Although it dissolved the loyalist-dominated parliament elected in December, the regime’s officials seemed mostly pleased with the ruling. General Mahmoud Al-Dousari, Interior Ministry Undersecretary for Major Security Affairs said that protests following the ruling would not be permitted, even in Erada Square where they had previously been allowed, claiming that the ruling of the court was final and Kuwait’s citizens accepted it. The Chairman of the National Electoral Committee itself was supportive of the ruling, despite the fact that the court eliminated his job, and he noted that a new decree would need to be issued regarding municipal elections that were to be held on July 6th. The Emir gave a speech in support of the ruling and urged citizens to accept it.

The opposition’s reaction was mostly negative, although the National Democratic Alliance, an alliance of liberal opposition groups announced it would take part in the elections that must be held by August. Other opposition groups reiterated their intention to boycott the upcoming elections if they are held under the one-vote decree. Twenty-four former MPs met at the office of former National Assembly Speaker Ahmed Al-Saadoun, at which they criticized the decision and announced they would boycott the upcoming elections. However, the regime may be calculating that turnout will rise among liberals who decide to participate as well as tribes which vote after boycotting the previous election. Recently the Emir has made attempts to reach out to Kuwait’s tribes, which were a major source of support for the opposition. Prior to the ruling the leader of the Awazem tribe (Kuwait’s largest) spoke against opposition demands and urged Kuwait’s citizens to attend a dinner in honor of the Emir.

The regime appears to be seeking a scenario in which increased tribal participation would boost turnout, and discredit opposition leaders who boycotted the elections. It could then continue with its strategy of targeting individual supporters of the opposition for prosecution (for example, jailing Twitter users accused of insulting the Emir). It may then in the future hope to placate (and to some degree co-opt) opposition leaders to further enhance its arguments for legitimacy.

The problem is that while in the short term such tactics may well be successful, they also risk eroding the regime’s legitimacy even further. Without this legitimacy, there is a major risk of having the already pervasive economic arrangement (in which oil revenues are used to provide benefits and subsidized state employment to citizens) become even more critical for the regime to sustain itself in power, and even more difficult to change even though in the long term it almost certainly has to.

Musallam al-Barrak and the Competing Arenas of Kuwaiti Politics

Today, Musallam al-Barrak is scheduled to return to court for his appeal against a five-year prison sentence he received for allegedly insulting the Emir. Whatever the court rules today, the ruling will highlight the increasingly bisected nature of Kuwaiti politics between the regime-dominated political system and the opposition’s arena of popular mobilization.

Today’s hearing was scheduled on April 22nd, when Barrak appeared in court and was granted bail by the judge. Following the judge’s decision to grant him bail, thousands of his supporters gathered in the seuare next to the main prison in Salibiya region and lifted him onto their shoulders in an impromptu parade. Barrack said that it was his supporters who had him released after the hearing rather than his bail payment. He feels, not without justification given the fate of many other opposition supporters, that he must rely on public opinion to protect him from the regime’s crackdown on dissent. Last year’s nullified election in February demonstrated the extent of his backing as he received more votes than any other candidate (he boycotted the December election).

During the week between his sentencing on April 15th and his court appearance on April 22nd, Barrack repeatedly insisted that he would comply with the law and surrender when he saw a copy of the original arrest warrant, which he insisted police did not have. He evaded several attempts to arrest him, including a raid on his home (he was not there at the time), which he called a “cowardly action” by the government, which provoked a crowd of about 10,000 protesters to clash with riot police outside of a police station. He denied that his comments from an October rally that the Emir must not rule autocratically were an insult, and his supporters took to repeating his words as a show of solidarity. He insisted publicly that he would comply with the court’s rulings but his actions prior to the court hearing on April 22nd were those of a political figure confident of popular backing and intent on defiance.

The regime’s actions in the recent political crisis, including regarding the case of Barrak appear to be based on the calculation that these protests do not pose a fundamental threat to overthrow the regime. The regime seems also to be attempting to take advantage of the dominance of the political system that the opposition yielded to it by boycotting the election in December.

The stage was set when the February 2012 election resulted in the election of a parliament with a majority of opposition MPs, which meant that the regime could expect more opposition from parliament, including efforts to grill ministers. A series of events following the election took place which suggested that the regime may have been attempting to regain by decree what it lost at the ballot box. Over the summer a court ruling dissolved the parliament elected in February 2012 and reinstated the one elected in 2009. Subsequently, the regime attempted to have the courts overturn the 2006 electoral law, and when this failed, the Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, issued a decree seen to favor the regime by reducing the number of votes Kuwaitis could cast from four to one, in a decree seen to favor the regime. This decree, along with the court ruling dissolving the parliament elected in February 2012 was the main catalyst for the opposition’s boycott of the December 2012 elections.

The central calculation by the regime appeared to be that its support would be high enough that they would be able to claim the boycott was a failure, or at least not an unmitigated success. The new parliament legitimized the electoral decree, and actually held a recent debate where MPs criticized the Interior Minister for not cracking down hard enough. The regime’s control of the formal political system has enabled it to have legal justification for cracking down on what it terms to be dissent (e.g. the allegations directed against Barrak for “insulting the Emir”).

Whatever happens in court today, the decision is likely to underline the divisions between Kuwait’s formal and informal political spaces. A denial of the appeal would trigger protests that could potentially be larger than those that have occurred in recent months, but the regime may be able to weather them. A decision to release Barrack – and the decision is up to the judge – would embolden his supporters and also set the stage for further protests on other issues, as well as future legal battles as the opposition would seek to contest the regime’s dominance of the political system. Either way, Kuwait is likely to experience demonstrations this week, and the ruling will be a key factor in determining their nature, their demands, and the degree to which they are violent or peaceful. This is the immediate implication of the decision to be handed down later today.

Musallam al-Barrack Defies Regime at Appeals Court

Musallam al-Barrack, in a potent display of his political power, was able to attend a court hearing today and avoid arrest after being granted bail on KD5000. At the court hearing, the Judge was faced with barrack’s supporters who marched on the Palace of Justice with him, as well as 35 lawyers who showed up to defend him. In the end, the judge granted bail and adjourned the trial until May 13.

Barrack is walking a fine line – in court he denied that his speech insulted the Emir, but also said that if he had another chance he would say the same thing again. His lawyer, Mohammad al-Jassem said that sending him to prison would threaten his life, and sought more time to prepare a defense along with Barrack’s other attorneys. Al-Jassem is himself an activist who has been the target of attacks and legal action by the regime, including a few months ago when he urged other Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and the UAE to stay out of Kuwait’s internal affairs in an open letter posted on his blog.

To this point, Barrack has been successful in his defiance of the regime to the extent that he has been able to avoid being arrested on several attepts, including two where he refused to surrender on procedural grounds and once where he avoided arrest when his home was raided. After that raid he returned to his diwaniyya later amid cheering crowds that included tribesmen who were firing automatic weapons into the air in cheering him on. Amid this atmosphere the court hearing today was destined to be a showdown. Perhaps the regime hoped that Barrack would avoid attending the hearing and that an arrest warrant could be issued, but if this was the course of action that they sought he outmanuvered them by showing up and pressuring the judge to release him.

However, it is important to recognize that Barrack has defied the regime and to this extent succeeded because he has put them in a difficult position and has a great degree of international and local support. However, in a certain sense the fact that he has been able to escape arrest at this point is a sign of the breakdown of the judiciary’s independence. The regime has until this point allowed Barrack to escape arrest, but the numerous Twitter users who have been arrested and sentenced to similar sentences have not been so lucky. It is important that every case, in addition to Barrack’s receives the same degree of attention so that these violations of the protections guaranteed in Kuwait’s constitution by the regime will be prevented from continuing.

UPDATED: Musallam al-Barrak Raises the Stakes

Update – Musallam al-Barrak’s appeal hearing has been set for April 22nd, which is next Monday. At this hearing the presiding judge has the power to suspend the implementation of Barrak’s sentence (which would drop the arrest warrant, though the case could remain) or order his arrest, which means he would be taken into custody immediately if he shows up for the hearing.

The regime appears to be sensitive to criticism from its loyalists that it is not cracking down hard enough. Perhaps ominously, the National Assembly, which was the first real parliament in the Gulf has become a forum for supporting the government’s efforts to crack down, and criticising it for not cracking down hard enough. The National Assembly issued a statement that condemned “insults” directed towards the Emir, which also supported the regime’s efforts against the opposition. Matters may come to a head next Monday depending on whether or not al-Barrak decides to attend the hearing.

Original Post - On Wednesday, former MP Musallam al-Barrak attended an impromptu rally at his diwaniyya accompanied by thousands of tribesmen firing machine guns into the air as if they were ready for battle against the regime. Three times since his sentence on Monday to five years in prison for alledgedly insulting the Emir, Barrak has evaded capture. The first two times the police went to his diwaniyya and he insisted that he would surrender to police if they produced the original arrest warrant, and he said they only had a copy. There were hundreds of his supporters present and the police decided not to risk a confrontation. Then, on Wednesday commandos were sent to raid his house, where several of his relatives were allegedly beaten. Up to 10,000 protesters responded by marching on the police station in Andalus, where they were repelled by riot police using tear gas and stun grenades. A fire was set to a vehicle belonging to the interior ministry and to a nearby market in Andalus, with several injuries reported. Following this, al-Barrak defiantly appeared again at his diwaniyya, stating once again that he was prepared to give himself up. After initially hesitating, his supporters marched towards the police station, setting off fireworks in response to the use of tear gas.

The National Assembly held a secret debate about these developments, and the interior minister has come under criticism for not cracking down harder, showing that Barrak’s actions and the regime’s perceived lack of response have angered many of the regime’s supporters. Several MPs had signalled earlier their desire to grill the Interior Minister, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Humoud Al-Sabah for his failure to crack down hard enough. It is worth noting amid these developments that one of the MPs who criticized the Interior Minister, Safa al-Hashem, has, to a degree, a vested interest in the regime’s actions, as she came in 14th the the February 2012 election, failing to win a seat by about 2500 votes. In December she benefited from the Emiri decree reducing the number of votes from four to one, and won a seat in an election that the opposition boycotted. Perhaps a troubling development of that boycott, and the opposition’s withdrawal from electoral politics is that the National Assembly has become a forum for urging government crackdowns rather than acting as a check on the executive’s power.

The opposition alledges that Barrak was not given a fair trial after his lawyers walked out after not being able to call their desired witnesses, including the Prime Minister, and denounced the verdict as political. An increasingly common sign of defiance against the regime by the opposition is the recitation of Musallam al-Barrak’s speech in October which led to his arrest in which he warned the Emir not to rule autocratically. It has been recited every night since the sentence by protesters, and was recently posted on the Ministry of Information’s web site when it was hacked on Wednesday. By doing this, opposition supporters are metaphorically “crossing the rubicon” by committing the same acts for which Barrak was arrested.

Through his actions following his sentence, Musallam al-Barrak has raised the stakes in Kuwait’s ongoing political crisis. In February 2012, in elections that have since been annulled, he received more than 30,000 votes, more than any candidate anywhere in Kuwait. By comparison, the candidate who was elected in first place in the 4th constituency in the boycotted December election received less than 3000.

In some ways, for more liberal protesters Barrak is an interesting symbol for their cause. Mona Kareem writes that although Barrak has become a symbol of the protests in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Gulf, he is in fact a conservative with political positions on women’s rights (he supported gender segregation in universities and opposed women’s suffrage) and blasphemy (he supported a law that provided for the death penalty) liberals would consider deeply troubling. In turn, this gives the regime a chance to say that its opponents are politically unpalatable to distract from its repression. Much is unclear about the future, but it is clear that as an MP, or as a political prisoner, Musallam al-Barrak is a powerful force in Kuwaiti politics.

Is Kuwait’s Anti-Expat Momentum Stalling

It seems that after a series of measures targeting expats were introduced In Kuwait that the momentum behind them may be stalling. On Wednesday, the National Assembly rejected a proposal to charge expats the full price for fuel, which would then be dispensed to Kuwaitis with a ration card. Other components of the measure would have required the deportation of expats who commit “grave violations” of traffic laws.

The vote in the National Assembly was decisive, with over 30 members voting against it including government officials who are ex-officio members, while 8 MPs voted in favor of it. It seems then that the momentum that has been targeted against expats has stalled for the time being. Measures that have been proposed recently such as fixed residency periods that would require them to leave the country after a certain period of time as well as nationality quotas have foundered due to the fact that after the emotion has left the picture they turn out to be detrimental to the country. In particular, if skilled workers such as teachers have been in the country for ten years should they then be forced to leave?

It is important to recognize of course that part of the sentiment that is behind measures like this is intended to increase the job opportunities for Kuwait’s citizens. However, the issue is that expats have recently been targeted with proposals to such an extent that recently it felt like hardly a day went by without the introduction of another one. There are indeed still some under consideration such as the proposal to effectively segregate health clinics by permitting expatriates to attend them in non-emergency situations only in afternoon hours. However, the rejection by the National Assembly of the proposal to charge Kuwaiti citizens different fuel prices indicates that the momentum may be shifting on this issue.

At the end of the day, Kuwait has a problem with its citizens relying on guaranteed state employment (the source of income for over 90 percent of them). However, the decisions that have recently been taken against expats have appeared intended not at ultimatley opening jobs for Kuwait’s citizens but instead aimed at stirring up anti-expat sentiment to deflect attention from the government’s failings.

Instead of Helping Citizens, Kuwaiti MPs and Ministries Target Expats

Recently a number of measures have been considered in Kuwait that target the country’s substantial population of expatriates. It is important before this issue is examined in more detail that the background be discussed. It is estimated that out of a total population of about three million, two thirds are expatriates while the remaining one million are citizens. There is, essentially, a dichotomy in the economy between these two groups. The state provides essentially guaranteed employment to its citizens in the public sector that comes with generous benefits, and citizens have taken advantage, with more than 90 percent of them holding jobs in the public sector. Meanwhile, the private sector is dominated by expatriates, who hold over 98 percent of the jobs.

The expense of employing approximately 91 percent of its citizens is a substantial one for the Kuwaiti government, but it is one that it is currently able to afford due to the current high price of oil. Kuwait export crude is projected to be $107 per barrel with one month remaining in the fiscal year, which leads to a major surplus. However, the official budget projections, which are included in this economic report by the National Bank of Kuwait, are calculated with a projected oil price of $65 for 2012/2013 and a projected oil price of $70 for 2013/2014. According to these figures, if the oil prices were at that level, Kuwait would have large budget deficits, totaling approximately KD7.3 billion ($25 billion) for 2012/2013 and KD3.05 billion ($10.7 billion) for 2013.

Since the Arab Spring began at the beginning of 2011, the regime has done two things – first, it has reacted to clamp down on dissent, and second, it has boosted government spending substantially. These spending increases could include granting interest relief to Kuwaiti citizens who overspent their income and obtained personal loans to do so, or having the government purchase the loans. The issue, beyond that of equity or fairness, is that financial institutions are likely to continue extending such loans if they believe that the state would continue to bail them out by repaying them.

This increased spending has happened to a degree that the World Bank reported in 2012 that it would be unable to sustain it over the long term. The IMF projected in 2012 that at the current rate Kuwait would run out of extra oil revenue by 2017 and would no longer be able to save funds for its future generations fund. At the time that report was written it estimated that the breakeven point was $44 per barrel, but the recent budget projections show that the breakeven point is now substantially higher.

It is impossible to predict the direction of oil prices, and a decline to $70 a barrel is not unforeseeable. It might not be likely, but it is not impossible either, and would, as the statistics above show, put a serious strain on Kuwait’s budget (and could lead to subsidy reductions as well). It is therefore necessary to increase the private sector employment opportunities for Kuwait’s citizens so that they do not need to rely on government employment, which over the long term could be affected by fluctuations in the price of oil. There was recently a plan passed by the National Assembly to help finance small business projects that employ citizens but it has been criticized as having many of the same flaws as previous efforts, which helped establish some businesses but these did not employ substantial numbers of Kuwait’s citizens. There is, then, a pressing need for employment for the substantial young population, but currently a lack of adequate steps being taken. A recent $111 billion development plan that included contributions from the private sector was blocked by parliament last year. The danger is that Kuwait will, even with recent measures to attract foreign investment, lose out on business to other states in the region such as the UAE.

It is in this context then, that recent measures have been taken targeting Kuwait’s substantial population of expatriate workers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor announced a plan to reduce the number of expats by 100,000 annually to reach 1 million in ten years. The Kuwaiti Ministry of Health recently implemented a measure intended to segregate the hours that Kuwaitis and expatriates receive non-emergency medical care. They have also been blamed even for traffic jams and accidents. However, the measures to restrict expatriates have two flaws – first, they are attempting to scapegoat a population of workers for issues beyond their control. Expats only recently (in 2010) received a degree of protection that included a minimum wage, and have suffered abuse from employers in the past. Second, it could under present economic conditions lead to a loss of valuable skilled workers, as a recent survey of Kuwaiti citizens showed.

What, then, is the solution? The exclusion of citizens from meaningful economic (and increasingly political) participation is a long-term issue that need to be addressed. What is required is careful study and well-studied and implemented plans, not measures intended to target a class of workers for long-term problems that are not of their creation.

Protests Erupt in Kuwait Following Detention of Former MPs

Protests erupted in Kuwait on Tuesday following a court verdict in which three former MPs – Falah al-Sawwagh, Bader al-Dahoun, and Khaled al-Tahous, were sentenced to three years of hard labor for allegedly insulting the Emir at rallies opposing changes to the electoral law last year. Despite being convicted, the three MPs are not yet in custody, and in fact they attended opposition rallies. On Monday a Twitter user was jailed for five years for insulting the Emir. The verdicts are not final and are subject to appeal, and at the rallies protesters marched from the home of Sawwagh to Tahus. At the rally, former MP Musallam al-Barrak, who is facing charges similar to those faced by the three former MPs who were convicted of insulting the Emir called the verdict political and said that the opposition would have a meeting to strategize that would be held on Wednesday. Barrak said that protests would be held very day in various areas throughout Kuwait. Perhaps in a sign of things to come, Falah ben Jami, the leader of the Awazem, who are the largest Bedouin tribe in Kuwait, appared at the rally and warned that the political situation in Kuwait would deteriorate like it did in Yemen, Egypt, and Tunisia.

The regime appears to be responding to criticism by defending its actions as consistent with upholding the constitution of Kuwait. The Ministry of Information’s comments on the recent convictions present the arrests of critics of the regime as almost a constitution obligation, as though there was nothing that motivated these arrests other than a desire to defend the constitution, which happens to define the Emir’s position is inviolable. In fact, they issued a statement saying that citizens could change the constitution if they sought to do so, presenting the issue as one of constitutionalism – which would, if one ignores the measures that the regime has taken recently, including the Emir’s electoral decree changing the entire voting system – be a plausible argument, though in fact the arrests were clearly political. It was part of a growing campaign by the regime to clamp down on dissent and erode what was once the Gulf’s most open political culture.

It is important to recognize that the law under which the three former MPs were arrested – which prohibits criticism of the Emir – is not only bad policy on a philosophical sense but also in a practical sense. In Tunisia, they decided not to include a clause prohibiting blasphemy in the constitution on practical grounds – in the words of the speaker of the constituent assembly, there would not be a blasphemy clause “not because we have agreed to (allow) attacks on the sacred, but because the sacred is something very, very difficult to define.” Insulting someone’s religious beliefs is much more serious than insulting a country’s ruler, but the same principle outlined by the Tunisian Constituent Assembly Speaker applies – the problem is not just that the Emir’s position is considered to be inviolable, thus making criticism illegal, but also that the definition of criticism itself is difficult to define, and open to political manipulation.

Just as in Tunisia, where they did not include a blasphemy clause due to concerns that politicians might one day accuse those disagreeing with them of blasphemy, there is the potential that prohibiting criticism of the Emir permits those who are opposed to political reform to define criticism in their own terms, and for them to argue that any objection to actions taken by the Emir – including the electoral decree – are in violation of the constitution. The opposition MPs defined their speeches not as criticism but rather as advice. Repealing the provision in the constitution prohibiting criticism of the Emir is right not just in terms of free speech but also because it would deprive the regime of one of the tools it uses to harass anyone who criticises its decisions and policies.

Kuwait After December 1st: A Divided Political Sphere

Protests in Kuwait have been held every day since the election on December 1st, and show no sign of abating, although at present their size is limited and the regime retains a degree of support. Today, a protest was held in Kuwait City that attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators who chanted slogans against the Emir’s decree, demonstrating that even as the regime has moved to dominate the formal political arena the opposition has the clout to demand that its voice be heard.

It seems from the results of the election that the opposition’s decision to boycott the polls means that there are two separate (but related) political processes occurring in Kuwait at the same time. There is the regular political process – now dominated by forces allied with the government – who are by no means homogenous (as will be outlined below in greater detail) consisting of the royal family and the executive branch, the National Assembly (now dominated by government allies) and the judicial system.

Then there is the opposition, which by boycotting the election removed itself from much of the formal political system. The political sphere of the opposition consists of protests, both authorized like the massive December 1st protest on the eve of the election, which was supported by @KarametWatan, the anonymous organizers of several previous protests. The rally was attended by numerous opposition figures, including Ahmed Al-Saadoun, former Speaker of the National Assembly who most recently held that position in the Assembly elected in February 2012, which was dissolved by the constitutional court. Also speaking at the rally was former Islamist MP Jamaan Al-Herbesh. Musallam Al-Barrak, a former MP who was arrested and later released on bail in October after urging the Emir not to rule in an autocratic manner, attended the rally and chanted slogans against the regime.

The government on Tuesday pledged to take a hard line against opposition protests. The Interior Ministry vowed to not allow “any unauthorized gatherings whatever their aims and needs are,” and said that police officers had been injured in clashes on Monday by protesters who were throwing stones and had attempted to run over police officers. The government’s hard line led them to arrest eight teenagers between 15 and 17 years old without charges before a protest on Thursday, according to Naser AlAbduljalil (@NforNaser).

At the same time that protests are continuing, the government has moved forward with the formal political process without opposition participation. Despite recent events, an analysis of the turnout reveals that the regime still has a large degree of public support, or at least acquiescence. If the opposition’s calculation of 28 percent turnout is accurate (down from approximately 60 percent in previous elections) then theoretically about 53.3 percent of the electorate participate in the boycott. The official statistics indicate that approximately 40 percent of the electorate voted, which would mean approximately 33 percent of the population participated in the boycott.

The regime is thus moving forward with the belief that it has the support (or at least acquiescence) of between 46 and 67 percent of the electorate following the recent election, and it is to this political process that I now turn.

Official Political Process (Government allies)

The government is moving foward as though the election was a referendum in which it prevailed. The Emir reappointed the incumbent Prime Minister, Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah who has served since late 2011 when a corruption scandal led to the resignation of his predecessor. He has until December 16th to select a new cabinet, as that is when the new National Assembly will convene.

The National Assembly that convenes on the 16th will be substantially different than the previous one, as Shia candidates won an unprecedented number of seats, while tribal figures and Sunni Islamists chose to boycott. MPs are already competing for position in the next parliament. Ali Al-Omair thought to be one of the frontrunners for the Speakership, and Essam Al-Dabous has also announced he intends to stand. MP Askar Al-Enezi has announced his run for the Deputy speakership. Al-Enezi was the top vote-getter in the 4th constituency despite being initially barred from running due to his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal. (As a matter of fact candidates initially barred from standing did quite well, 9 of them were elected.) Both of these MPs – despite being government loyalists, have shown at least some degree of independence, as Al-Omair participated or supported two ministerial grillings in 2007 (including one member of the royal family), and Al-Enezi urged the government to apologize when the head of the Enezi tribe was arrested at the airport following pro-Bedoon protest tweets prior to a flight.

What these examples show is that the loyalists, just like the coalition opposing the government, cannot be considered a completely homogenous group. Some members of the new parliament have discussed making further changes to the electoral law, such as having 10 constituencies with 5 MPs and two votes per voter, which would be the same votes to seats ratio (40 percent) as under the 2006 electoral law, in the hopes of averting another boycott. However given the government’s decision to press forward in spite of the boycott the opposition is unlikely to take this as a suitable concession, and will likely continue to engage in protests and legal challenges, to which I now turn.

Opposition’s Political Process

The opposition decided to boycott the election following the Emir’s decree reducing the number of votes each voter is allowed to cast from four to one. The protests have continued following the election.

Today, tens of thousands of Kuwaitis protested near Kuwait towers and chanted “the people want the fall of the decree.” On Wednesday, protesters gathered at a roundabout outside Kuwait City and were followed by cars honking their horns in support as they chanted against the Emir’s electoral decree. The previous day police had fired tear gas at demonstrators protesting against the results of the election.

The opposition has refused to accept the legitimacy of the new parliament and is calling for the revocation of the one-vote decree. Their protests have been met by the regime with tear gas and batons as well as arbitrary arrests.

They have also vowed to challenge the electoral decrees through the courts. A few days ago several leading figures from the liberal National Bloc filed a petition, saying that they would respect the court’s verdict. The Emir had previously said the same thing. If the court rules against the decree it would result in the 2009 National assembly being recalled – yet again – and another election – yet again.

What does this mean?

The Emir’s decree was seen by the opposition as crossing a line, as they decided the regime wanted to increase its power at their expense. Meanwhile, following the election the regime feels confident that it can endure the protests. Maybe they are right, at least in the short term. However, over the long term if (even according to the regime’s own figures) one-third of the population rejects participation in the political process it does not bode well for Kuwait long-term. The regime may yet pull through this crisis without making any real concessions, but the people – as they have in the past – have been steadfast in demanding their rights. It is unclear whether any outcome can resolve the long-term political crisis, so the upheaval that has lasted for the past six years continues, and has entered a new phase with this most recent election.

Kuwait: Election Winners by Constituency

The following are the winners of the December 2012 Kuwaiti National Assembly election in each of Kuwait’s five constituencies. As has been mentioned before, the election was boycotted by the opposition, so all of the candidates elected were pro-regime. Overall turnout (albiet, according to the official statistics) was 38.5 percent.

Analyzing these election winners reveals the impact of the one-vote decree – it drastically reduces the number of votes that a candidate needs to be elected, and it makes manipulation of the election results more likely when the threshold to be elected is so low. The highest percentage that a winning candidate received was 14 percent, and the lowest was 2 percent, in the 5th constituency where Nasser Abdullah Al-Shammari was elected as an MP with only 502 votes, or 2 percent of the total number of votes cast.

1st Constituency (turnout 42,868):

  1. Kamel Al-Awadhi – 5757 votes (13%)
  2. Adnan Abdulsamad – 4983 (11%)
  3. Faisal Al-Duwarsan – 4851 (11%)
  4. Yusuf Zalzala – 3529 (8%)
  5. Maasouma Al-Mubarak – 3204 (7%)
  6. Abdulhameed Dashti – 2725 (6%)
  7. Saleh Ashour – 2241 (5%)
  8. Nawwaf Al-Fuzai – 2090 (4%)
  9. Khaled Al-Shatti – 1901 (4%)
  10. Hussein Al-Qallaf – 1656 (3%)

2nd Constituency (turnout 26,167):

  1. Ali Al-Rashed – 3044 (11%)
  2. Adnan Al-Mutawwa’ – 2598 (9%)
  3. Abdulrahman Al-Jeeran – 2317 (8%)
  4. Bader Al-Bathali – 1919 (7%)
  5. Adel Al-Kharafi – 1834 (7%)
  6. Ahmed Lari – 1634 (6%)
  7. Khalaf Dmaitheer Al-Enezi – 1552 (5%)
  8. Khalil Al-Saleh – 1475 (5%)
  9. Hamad Saif Al-Harshani – 1043 (3%)
  10. Saleh Al-Ateeqi – 909 (3%)

3rd Constituency (turnout 38,205):

  1. Ali Al-Omari – 5714 (14%)
  2. Khalil Abdullah Ali Abdullah – 3780 (9%)
  3. Ahmed Al-Mulaifi – 2979 – (7%)
  4. Safa’ Al-Hasheem – 2632 – (6%)
  5. Saadoun Hamad Al-Otaibi – 2147 – (5%)
  6. Hesham Al-Baghli – 1980 – (5%)
  7. Abdullah Al-Mayouf – 1944 – (5%)
  8. Nabil Al-Fadhl – 1860 – (4%)
  9. Yaaqoub Al-Sane’ – 1392 – (3%)
  10. Mohammad Al-Jabri – 1244 – (3%)

4th Constituency (turnout 31,640):

  1. Askar Al-Enezi – 2517 – (8%)
  2. Saad Khanfour Al-Rashidi – 2474 – (8%)
  3. Saud Nashmi Al-Huraiji – 2125 – (6%)
  4. Mubarak Al-Khurainej – 1768 – (5%)
  5. Thikra Al-Rashidi – 1283 – (4%)
  6. Khaled Al-Shulaimi – 1251 – (3%)
  7. Mohammad Al-Barrak – 1214 - (3%)
  8. Mishari Al-Husseini – 1126 - (3%)
  9. Mubarak Al-Orf – 1120 - (3%)
  10. Mubarak Saleh Al-Nejada – 1090 - (3%)

5th Constituency (turnout 24,421):

  1. Faisal Al-Kandari – 3534 – (14%)
  2. Abdullah Al-Tamimi – 2852 – (11%)
  3. Nasser Al-Marri – 1634 – (6%)
  4. Hanin Hussein Shams – 1612 – (6%)
  5. Essam Al-Dabboos – 1299 – (5%)
  6. Khaled Adwa Al-Ajmi – 869 - (3%)
  7. Taher Al-Failakawi – 846 - (3%)
  8. Hammad Al-Dosari – 839 - (3%)
  9. Saad Al-Boos – 792 - (3%)
  10. Nasser Abdullah Al-Shammari – 502 – (2%)

It is important to note, as mentioned in the previous post, that the 1st constituency was least affected by the boycott while the 4th and 5th constituencies, with large tribal populations were the most affected by it. A major reason why the 1st constituency was not affected by the boycott was due to the large Shi’ite population there. As mentioned before, Shi’ites won a record number of seats in this election.