Saturday, November 27

Kuwait votes for a new Parliament amid worst economic crisis in three decades

Saturday, 5 December 2020 – 16:53

Among the challenges of the next legislature – the first after the death of Emir Sabah al Ahmed al Sabah – is dealing with the challenges of the depression caused by the fall in the price of oil.

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A Kuwait woman votes this Saturday in the parliamentary elections.
Noufal Ibrahim / EFE

  • Diplomacy.

    Qatar and Saudi Arabia negotiate with the mediation of Kuwait and the US to end a three-year blockade

For decades Parliament and the Al Sabah royal family have starred a stormy relationship, full of misunderstandings and abrupt decisions. For the first time since 2003, Kuwait has held a general election this Saturday that is not the result of the early dissolution ordered by the emir. His subjects have paraded to the polls in an appointment marked by the recent rise to the throne of Nawaf al Ahmed al Jaber al Sabah and the worst economic crisis since the Iraqi invasion of the country in 1990.

With 4.1 million inhabitants, of which only 1.2 million are nationals, Kuwait is a parliamentary monarchy, a “rare bird” in the Persian Gulf regimes. Since 1963, two years after its full independence, the kingdom – whose surface is similar to that of the province of Zaragoza – has had a National Assembly. 395 candidates, including 33 women, compete this Saturday for one of the 50 seats in Parliament. Another 15 deputies are directly elected by the emir. Political parties are prohibited.

“The next Parliament will have to deal with economic challenges such as the public debt law and support for small and medium-sized companies during the pandemic,” he tells EL Abdal al Khonaini, researcher and co-founder of Raqib50, a body that oversees the legislative work of the kingdom. “One of the recurring challenges is to forge a political consensus among the deputies under the current electoral system and change it so that it is more representative before the next elections,” he adds.

Marked by the restrictions imposed by the spread of Covid-19 – the country has registered more than 140,000 infections and nearly 900 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic – the elections could conclude with a lower participation rate than previous appointments. Its population votes just two months after the death of Emir Sheikh Sabah al Ahmed At the age of 91, a figure who for half a century modeled the spirit of a regional mediator who wants to preserve the country with his key role in the current rapprochement between the Saudi and Qatari regarding the blockade of Doha.

Confrontacin histrica

The economy of the sixth largest oil reserve in the world – a close ally of the United States in the turbulent Middle East, marked by the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia – reigns over the rest of the problems. For the first time in its history, the credit agency Moody’s has just lowered the country’s rating, whose deficit could exceed 40% of its Gross Domestic Product by the end of this year, reaching the levels of the economic depression caused in 1990 by the invasion of the country. it went through the troops of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent Gulf War.

The executive branch, appointed directly by the emir, faces restrictions imposed by Parliament. One of the most pressing objectives of the Government is to pass legislation that allows it to go to the international debt markets. Recently the finance minister acknowledged that the coffers could soon run out of liquidity to pay the salaries of its officials. Unlike neighboring countries and in a situation reached by the drastic drop in oil pricesKuwait has not cut subsidies or raised taxes.

Another priority of the new chamber will be to strengthen its role and overcome the historic confrontation with the emir, who has repeatedly exercised his power to dissolve the courts. The opposition – which demands political reforms, accountability for corruption and the amnesty of dissidents, mostly exiles – has returned to participate in the elections after the boycott that began in 2012 in protest against the change of an electoral systeml that until then allows citizens to vote for up to four candidates. Since then, voters can only choose one candidate, which – in the opinion of the dissent – makes it difficult to form alliances.

Structural and political weakness

“The new parliament must combat its structural and political weaknesses, which is the main reason for the unacceptable practices that took place during the last legislature, between 2016 and 2020,” the Kuwaiti politician told this newspaper. Abir al Mutawa. “It has not been a successful Parliament. Its deputies did not execute what they had promised and only began to speak when the legislature came to an end. An analyst compared them with some lazy students who only work hard at the end of the course,” he slides.

According to Al Mutawa, a string of pending issues now awaits the next parliamentarians. “In addition to the economic situation, the empowerment of women, the ‘bedun’ [un colectivo de ms de 100.000 personas que desde hace medio siglo carecen de nacionalidad y sufren continuas violaciones de los derechos humanos] or the role of expatriate workers, “Al Mutawa lists. His ladies will have to deal with the new emir, Nawaf al Ahmed al Jaber al Sabah, 83, a continuation of the legacy of his late stepbrother.

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