Kuwait: Reforms Intended to Ensure Free, Transparent Elections

Article Summary
The Kuwaiti Government has recently enacted reforms which it claims will ensure that upcoming elections are free and fair. According to Abdallah Al-Qaq, independent observers will be permitted to monitor the elections for the first time, and new legislation will ensure that voting is fair and inclusive.

Parliamentary life in Kuwait began in 1962, and is considered the most important Arab parliamentary experience. The Kuwaiti National Assembly is powerful and deals with issues of concern to the Kuwaiti people. The upcoming Kuwaiti elections will be held against the backdrop of sweeping political changes in the region and the ongoing Arab revolutions or so-called “Arab Spring.” The elections will be held within a very sensitive atmosphere - in Kuwait and across the Persian Gulf, particularly after the 32nd summit of Gulf Cooperation Council leaders [held last December]. In one of the summit’s most important events, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdel-Aziz Al Saud’s spoke about transforming the GCC from a cooperation [council] into a union. This move would be significant, were it to happen.

The presence of a stable parliament compatible with the government is a fundamental thing [for Kuwait]. The elections - which will be held for the fourth time in less than six years - will be decisive and competitive.

It is clear that the elections will be qualitatively different this time. Mechanisms have been put in place to ensure their integrity, as is done in all Kuwaiti parliamentary elections. Talk of judicial supervision is not unusual. But the presence of civil society organizations like the Kuwaiti Al-Shafafiya (Transparency) association as a non-governmental observer will bring added credibility [to these elections]. It is the first time since 1962 that these types of organizations will play a role on the Kuwaiti electoral scene.

Talk of setting up of hotlines to communicate with Kuwaiti voters and enable them to report any voter fraud is a positive step for the Kuwait elections. In light of these developments, the National Assembly elections will be exciting and will certainly be closely followed in the media and within political circles, especially given the ongoing debates and political mobility present in the Kuwaiti arena.

In the end, what is most important is that the elections be fair and transparent, and that they reflect the parliamentary experience that has been [characteristic] of the Kuwaiti state for over five decades. The National Assembly is now the constitutional reference for all Kuwaiti people, who hope for the continued success of electoral and parliamentary life in Kuwait.

Kuwaiti Ambassador to Jordan Hamad Al Du’aij played a positive and significant role in briefing the press and media on the great efforts being undertaken by the Kuwaiti Government to create a parliament. This parliament will serve the nation and its citizens, especially since the elections will be conducted with integrity, impartiality and transparency, as directed by His Highness Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber Al Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait.

The electoral campaigns I witnessed in Kuwait have been encouraging. They were held in a respectful and competitive atmosphere of freedom and integrity. Moreover, they were well organized. Perhaps Kuwaiti Information Minister Sheikh Hamad Jaber al-Ali’s announcement that the government has made all necessary arrangements for the conduct of free and fair elections will signal that the government is playing a significant role in protecting [the electoral process] from [the influence of] impulsiveness, narrow interests or self interest. [The government seeks to] focus on the advancement of the Kuwaiti citizen, and the achievement of gains for the Kuwaiti people across all fields.

It is fair to say that the National Assembly candidates’ campaigns have had an obvious impact on voters. The Kuwaiti Government has granted them full freedoms and the right to criticize and have the final say on what happens at the ballot box. Furthermore, the candidates’ agendas today include more freedoms and broader popular participation in the political process. This comes in the wake of granting women permission to partake in the elections, and after a number of women won seats in the parliament and went on to play a special and leading role in awakening democratic life.

It is interesting that veteran Kuwaiti parliamentarian and politician Jassem al-Khurafi chose not to run in these elections. Al-Khurafi has headed the National Assembly for more than five terms. During this time he managed parliamentary sessions with great wisdom and efficiency and succeeded in solving parliamentary and governmental crises. “I will not run because I want to give [young parliamentarians] and the new blood a chance to assume a constructive role during this critical phase in the history of our glorious Arab nation,” he said.

Out of the more than 300 candidates who filled the streets of Kuwait with their banners, photographs and slogans, only 50 will win. All candidates have asserted their eagerness to advance the country and strengthen its national unity.

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