Kuwait needs political stability to implement reforms

Kuwait needs political stability to implement reforms

Kuwait's Members of Parliament attend a parliament session at the national assembly in Kuwait City. (AFP file photo)
Kuwait's Members of Parliament attend a parliament session at the national assembly in Kuwait City. (AFP file photo)
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Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah ascended to power in December 2023, with Kuwait’s National Assembly pledging allegiance. Now, Sheikh Mishal has decided to dissolve the current parliament, which was due to hold its first session this week. This is not the first time this has happened in recent history, but the emir has taken the further step of suspending the National Assembly for its whole term of four years, while also suspending the relevant constitutional articles.
This measure essentially suspends the entire parliament and the legislative arm of the country. This situation understandably raises significant concerns throughout the nation regarding the functioning of the country over the next four years and its impact on democratic rights, economic reforms and overall national development.
Kuwait’s emir is the head of state who selects the prime minister and, together, they select the council of ministers. However, legislative power is held by up to 50 members of the National Assembly, who are elected by the people. The National Assembly has the power to hold ministers to account, publicly and directly during Question Time, and it can call a vote of no-confidence in the Cabinet. In turn, the emir and the Constitutional Court can dissolve the National Assembly.
The constitution of Kuwait was drafted in 1962 and became operational in 1963 alongside the first National Assembly. An attempt was made by the parliament in July 2023 to revoke the Constitutional Court’s right to dissolve the National Assembly (Article 102 of the constitution), as attempts made by the court that spring to reinstate the previous parliament, following a national election, caused political chaos. This gives a flavor of the political unease that has sat in Kuwait for some time. Sheikh Mishal has released a royal decree changing seven constitutional articles, most notably Article 107, which allows a maximum of two months to elect a new National Assembly following a dissolution, and Article 181, which disallows suspending the constitution.
When it was dissolved last Friday, Kuwait’s parliament had only just formed following the public elections held in April this year. There have been 12 dissolutions of parliament since 2006, so it has been quite a destabilized time, politically. However, this is only the third suspension of the National Assembly since it was established in 1963.

There had been much abuse of the democratic rights and tools of the assembly, with legislators overstepping their positions.

Dr. Bashayer Al-Majed

Parliament was first suspended in 1976 by Emir Sheikh Sabah Al‐Salem Al‐Sabah. The suspension lasted five years. Sheikh Sabah also altered constitutional articles to revoke press freedoms in an effort to prevent attacks on various regimes. The second suspension was in 1986 due to constant clashes between parliament and the Cabinet, caused mainly by heavy political tensions, bomb threats and dropping oil prices. It lasted for six years. These suspensions eventually ceased due to public pressure.
Even prior to the formation of the most recent parliament, there had been much abuse of the democratic rights and tools of the assembly, with legislators interfering and imposing conditions that overstepped their positions. Question Time was abused, with disrespectful and even threatening behavior aimed at the Cabinet and threats made due to the emir’s choice of crown prince. There were also constant stalemates and legislative blocks, preventing progress on international business deals and much-needed national economic reforms to deal with oil divestments.
Additionally, the general public fears that the instability of recent years has encouraged corruption in state institutions. The emir had openly given numerous requests and warnings for more respectful behavior, as befitting of democratic processes, but they were not heeded.
A new Cabinet has been installed, with Sheikh Ahmad Abdullah Al-Sabah as prime minister. It will now work out how it is going to run the country over the next four years. Sheikh Mishal announced that he would explore how best to move forward in terms of reforms to Kuwait’s democratic system.
It is true that Kuwait has temporarily lost its parliament, an institution elected by the Kuwaiti people and secured through the struggles of our grandparents. The absence of elections over the next four years will undermine Kuwait’s unique position in the Gulf Cooperation Council as a nation with a democratic legislative parliament. Preserving this democratic framework is crucial for our future.
While this period of change is necessary, it will inevitably be a time of concern for many. However, the mechanisms of democracy were being severely exploited for selfish and political purposes and corruption cannot be allowed to take root. This abuse was having a detrimental effect on our country and economy. It is hoped that, in four years’ time, we will have developed a more effective system of governance that serves the entire nation.
In the interim, it is imperative that political stability enables Kuwait to implement serious reforms to address major geopolitical challenges and develop its economy and infrastructure, facilitating a transition away from oil dependency.

Dr. Bashayer Al-Majed is a professor of law at Kuwait University, and a visiting fellow at Oxford. X: @BashayerAlMajed


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