Kuwait vote shakes parliament into political deadlock

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Voters in Kuwait have chosen to shake up their parliament, sending conservative Islamist figures and two women to the assembly in the Gulf Arab nation’s second election in less than two years, according to published results. Friday.

The results of Thursday’s vote, which will bring 27 new members to the 50-member assembly, were seen as a mandate for change amid a long period of deadlock between the Cabinet, which is appointed by the royal family, and the assembly of 50 members. , which is democratically elected and more independent than similar bodies in the region.

Voters appear to have been motivated by growing complaints about official corruption. Kuwait’s Islamist opposition accuses the government of corruption and mismanagement, frequently questioning ministers about their involvement in the misappropriation of public funds.

But experts say these candidates could push back on social reforms and the protection of women’s rights and freedoms.

“If these candidates present socially conservative positions, it will divide those pushing for reform,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

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She noted that 17 elected lawmakers signed a widely criticized “values ​​pledge” that calls for gender segregation in Kuwaiti schools and a ban on co-ed dance parties. “Candidates who are willing to make this a heavily polarized question have done well.”

Two women were also elected, after the last elections of 2020 saw the only female legislator in the assembly lose her seat.

Kuwaiti women have increasingly expressed their frustration at parliament’s failure to pass laws protecting women from abuse and so-called honor killings in the conservative society.

The new assembly will include 27 new members, a dozen of whom served in previous assemblies, local media reported.

Kuwait has the freest and most active assembly in the Persian Gulf, but political power is still largely concentrated in the hands of the ruling Al Sabah family, which appoints the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, and can dissolve the assembly at any time.

Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmed Al Jaber, an 82-year-old who took on many duties from the ailing 85-year-old Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, called Thursday’s elections earlier this year when he dissolved parliament.

Since the death of the previous emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, two years ago, Kuwait’s long-standing political impasse has deepened. Lawmakers quizzed ministers over corruption allegations and ministers resigned in exasperation.

Sheikh Meshal has vaguely threatened “strong measures” if these elections fail to break the deadlock between the appointed Cabinet and the democratically elected assembly.

This could mean the dissolution of parliament by royal decree or constitutional decision.

“The threat still remains,” Diwan said. “Kuwaiti really need these two branches of government working together.”

The wrangling prevented the assembly from passing fundamental economic reforms, including a public debt law that would allow the government to borrow money, leading to the depletion of its general reserve fund despite its vast oil wealth. .

Kuwait has the sixth largest known oil reserves in the world and hosts some 13,500 US troops.

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