The election of the Kuwaiti National Assembly and its 50 deputies yesterday [Dec. 2] — amid widespread calls from the opposition to boycott the elections — carries very important indications.
The National Assembly elections — the second this year after the dissolution of the 2012 parliament that was elected last February — were hyped as a crossroads for both parties, the opposition and the regime. Each party hoped that the elections would fall in its favor so that it would become the “legitimate” one. But even after the results were released, both the regime and the opposition insisted on claiming victory in this round.
The regime saw what happened as recognition of the “decree of necessity” which provided for changing the electoral law, allowed marginalized groups to reach parliament, ended previous violations and re-injected blood into political life, which has been disabled for some time.
In contrast, the opposition insisted on the “illegitimacy” of the elected parliament and called for its dissolution. The opposition said that it will continue to take action and use all legitimate means to “topple the parliament and the one-vote law.”
After the release of the results, all media outlets — both Arab and foreign — focused on the “unprecedented” victory of the Shiites, who won 17 seats — one-third of all seats in parliament. Observers began to analyze the reason for this victory and its possible dimensions.
Firstly, it is noteworthy that Shiites make up one-third of Kuwait's population, and their victory was expected, especially after the adoption of the one-vote law, whereby voters have the right to vote for one candidate instead of four, as was the case in the past.
Observers expected this win on the grounds that the Shiites are part of Kuwaiti society and belong to different spectra — meaning that their victory was political, not sectarian. Kuwait's former minister of information, Sami al-Nisf, told As-Safir that “the Shiites represent different political segments, and the [election] boycott by the previous majority contributed to their ascent to parliament in such numbers.”
Nisf denied an alleged alliance between the regime and the Shiites, with some claiming that they are allies of the regime and that the latter drove them to victory so that they could benefit from a supportive regime. He explained that “if the others had participated [in the elections], they would have won. There are no alliances.” He added that “the next parliament will work to restore life to the various sectors that have been disabled in the country for some time.”
When asked about the future relationship between parliament and the government, Nisf felt certain that it will not be strained as it was before. He added that the two began warming up to one another even before the former's formation, and that the majority today sees that the country is in need of an agreement between the parliament and government to change the current crisis.
Kuwaiti political science professor Hussein Abdul Rahman told As-Safir that “what happened was one of the pros of the one-vote system.” While Abdul Rahman welcomes the parliament’s new formation, he noted that the first challenge for the parliament when it convenes in two weeks is to look at the security agreement with the Gulf states, which contradicts the Kuwaiti constitution on many points.
It is noteworthy that the 17 new Shiite deputies belong to different political currents: Four Shiite currents won nine seats. The candidates were from the National Islamic Alliance (a Shiite current, self-described as moderate and primarily concerned with Arabist nationalist issues), the Justice and Peace Alliance (which follows Ayatollah Sayyed Sadiq al-Shirazi, who is concerned with the rights of the community) and the Tajammu al-Risalah al-Insaniyah (a prominent current in Kuwait that calls for Islamic unity and the rejection of confessional differences). The other eight Shiite deputies are independents.
On the other hand, some commentators — including Simon Henderson, a writer at the Washington Institute — pointed to Gulf concerns over the Kuwaiti election results, as well as a potential Shiite ascension and effective opposition that could threaten the rest of the Gulf regimes. Henderson also noted Washington’s concern over maintaining the delicate balance between supporting democratic freedom and recognizing the importance of the historical alliances with the ruling families in the region which allow the US military forces to protect the Gulf oil exports from potential threats from Iran and others.
Meanwhile, the opposition insisted on continuing the escalation until the parliament is overthrown. The opposition described what happened as a coup against the constitution, saying that the new law is unconstitutional and will allow the ascent of new incompetent deputies loyal to the ruling regime.
Opposition leader and former Islamist MP Faisal al-Mouslem said, “We will continue our peaceful national movement under the protection of the constitution, and we will use all peaceful constitutional means, including seminars, rallies and marches … until this parliament is overthrown and the one-vote decree is withdrawn.”
The opposition said that the “low” turnout in the elections (saying that it was 27% instead of 40%, as per the official announcement) is evidence of the success of the boycott campaign. The opposition noted that there was rigging in the elections and voting rates in order to cover up for the government’s failure to convince people to vote. It announced the formation of the National Commission for the Defense of the Constitution and new steps to assess the next stage.
An opposition figure accused Kuwait Television of broadcasting archival images of old elections to give viewers the impression that turnout was high.
In short, it is clear that the Kuwaiti political scene will not calm down anytime soon, and a tense standoff between the regime and the opposition will continue. It is a game whose features will only become clearer in the near future.