Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kuwaiti Election Results

Kuwait's election results are in, and the big winners were tribal candidates and independents of many orientations. Gregory Gause has a great overview here, and predicts that with the re-election of key opponents of the Al Sabah dynasty, the contentiousness which led to these elections is not over.

That is not to say the elections are without consequences, however. At Global Voices Online, Amer al-Hilal highlights posts about the historic election of four women to the Parliament. This is undoubtedly a step forward for gender equity in this country where women could not vote until three years ago. Kristin Diwan notes another, more subtle, transformation in the political landscape (quoted with permission from a professional list-serve):
"The other area of dynamism in Kuwaiti politics is coming from the 'tribal' outer districts. I attended a HUGE and very well planned rally for women in the south of Kuwait near Ahmedi, and was duly impressed by the energy, which may have been amplified by the fact that it was held in an amusement park and most of the women brought a bevy of happy children in tow. As observant Kuwaiti social scientists have been telling us for years, these relatively late arriving citizens of Kuwait are becoming better educated and less willing to accept their role as 'service' candidates quietly accepting government jobs for loyalty to the rulers - especially as there are less jobs and services to give to their steadily increasing numbers. They may mobilize as a 'tribe,' but their complaints are essentially economic and full of historical resentment of the better off 'hadhar' of Kuwait's inner constituencies. The democratically elected parliament gives them the perfect vehicle to press their economic demands, and goes a long way in explaining why many of the merchant-led Kuwaitis who championed Kuwaiti democracy can now contemplate an unconstitutional dissolution of it."

To clarify, the hadhar are descendants of those who lived in Kuwait City in the early 20th century.

To return to Gause's bottom line, however:
"The key to the political stasis is the unwillingness of the Al Sabah family to permit senior family members, including the Prime Minister, to face confidence votes in the parliament. Rather than do that, the government resigns and, sometimes, parliament is dissolved. This is not because the last Prime Minister, Shaykh Nasir al-Muhammad, could not get majority support in the parliament. He probably could have had 35 votes (out of the 50) at least if the confidence motions (called 'istijwab' here --- a 'demand for an answer' in Arabic that involves addressing specific questions/charges to a minister and then having a vote of confidence) had been allowed to go to a vote. I think it is an unwillingness on the part of senior members of the family to tolerate such a precedent being set."

Gause is right on what the ruling family is doing and why. I've been critical of opposition MP's for pushing red lines when they're not going to get anywhere with it and when there appears to be no public support for their efforts, but that doesn't mean I don't think the royals should be able to avoid questioning.



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