A very lukewarm atmosphere is surrounding the electoral campaigns of about 300 candidates for Kuwait’s National Assembly (Parliament), amid ongoing political congestion as a result of the opposition boycott. This comes as the firmly established crisis has persisted since June, after the constitutional court upheld a decision to dissolve the previous Parliament in which the opposition won the majority of seats.
Most political groups, currents and tribal leaders said that they will boycott the elections. However, Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah has repeatedly called for participation and confirmed that the amendments to the electoral law — which are at the core of the controversy — do not violate the constitution and were added in the public interest.
The abstention of 40 out of 50 ex-members of Parliament indicates that the boycott is expanding. The opposition launched a campaign under the slogan “Boycott” to persuade the public not to go to the polls at the beginning of next month. The opposition selected the color orange as a symbol for the boycott. Opposition activists are hanging orange banners and ribbons on their cars and homes, and posting orange photos on their Twitter accounts, while the government supporters opted for the color blue and launched a campaign entitled “I Will Participate.” The activists’ blogs and opinion columns in Kuwaiti newspapers are filled with orange and blue articles.
Opposition members said they expect the turnout rate to be less than 30%, compared with more than 70% in the previous elections. Information Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Abdullah Al-Sabah said, “We hope that the participation rate in the upcoming election exceeds the previous one.” He then added, “Whatever the voting rate is, the results will be legitimate.” The electoral law in Kuwait doesn’t require any minimum voter turnout to acknowledge the results of an election.
Security personnel used force when dealing with the demonstrations and marches that the opposition had organized to oppose the amendment to the electoral law. They also arrested a number of demonstrators. Despite that, the opposition has called once again for a large march on the evening of Nov. 30 — the eve of the election — to convince the highest percentage of people possible to refrain from participating.
The candidates’ campaigns are very lukewarm and their offices and camps are only hosting a few supporters and curious people. This situation is not similar in any way to the traditional landscape of Kuwaiti elections, where crowded seminars and clamorous statements used to take place. Local media, particularly newspapers, do not find many articles to publish regarding the candidates’ seminars. Rather, seminars have turned into campaigns against the opposition and “orangists,” instead of serving as a way of showing off a candidate’s electoral program.
The Shiites (who constitute 15% of Kuwaitis) are the exception, and generally tend to support participation in the elections, with the exception of some liberals who have said that they will boycott them. The fact that electoral campaigns are occurring in the month of Muharram in the Islamic calendar has given the Shiite candidates’ campaigns a religious character, as they coincide with the Shiite holiday of Ashoura. It is expected that Shiites will win an increased number of seats, in addition to the seven they had in the previous Parliament. This is expected given that the majority of Sunnis are boycotting, particularly the tribes — who represent almost half of the voters.
The decree issued by the emir last month stipulated an amendment to the electoral law and reduced the number of votes given to each voter from four to one. The opposition believes that changing the law in the absence of a Parliament is unconstitutional and that the one person-one vote system “serves the government’s candidates and facilitates buying votes.”
The present elections are being held amid several complications, including the fact that the high electoral commission — consisting of judges — decided on Monday [Nov. 19] to revoke the candidacy of some candidates — including former MPs who have been loyal to the government — because of their “bad reputation.” Some opposition members had reservations regarding this move, since a “bad reputation” can be decided upon at the discretion of the commission members, without a judicial decision.
Former MP Waleed al-Tabtabai said, “It is true that we do not consider the elections as a whole to be legitimate, and while we are convinced that some of those who were removed from the ballot do really have a bad reputation, denying the candidacy of an individual based on his 'bad reputation' is a precedent that could be misused in the future.”
Moreover, the administrative court will examine on Monday [Nov. 26] the possibility of freezing the elections until the constitutional court makes a ruling on the unconstitutionality of the decree amending the electoral law. The emir said on Wednesday [Nov. 21] that he “will respect any decision issued by the judiciary regarding this decree.”