Developments in the Arab Spring are entering the calculations of political groups in all Arab countries, just as they have influenced these groups’ stances, if even only partially, vis-à-vis the elections in Kuwait that took place on Saturday. The developments in Egypt and Tunisia have been seen by regime loyalists in Kuwait as a justification for behaving cautiously, to avoid seeing the country move toward the kind of destabilization that has swept in other Arab states. Meanwhile, ultra-opposition groups have gone so far as to apply the situation in these countries to Kuwait, as a part of electoral mobilization against the ruling regime. Some of them have cited the fall of regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen to derive legitimacy for their political opposition. This is unrealistic, however, due to the difference in the political situation in Kuwait compared to these other countries. Is the statement by Emir Sabah al-Ahmad three days ago, when he granted amnesty to those convicted several months ago of demeaning the head of state, in any way equal to the oppression that has been, and is continuing to be, dealt out to opposition figures in these countries, irrespective of the defects that Kuwait opposition figures complain about when it comes to the implementation of their country’s laws?
Kuwait has a unique hereditary-parliamentary political system, and perhaps it is this that allows the country to absorb political crisis via the democratic game. This is what happened during the recent parliamentary elections, which created a new legislature – it was hoped that this body would be able to secure a stable political and legislative situation after more than two years of tension and stalemate, which approached a state of paralysis in terms of the state’s ability to function. The electoral turnout proved that the boycott, which prevailed during a previous round of elections for a legislature that was dissolved by order of the country’s Constitutional Court, was hardly a factor this time around. Islamist, tribal and liberal groups heeded the call by the opposition during elections at the beginning of the year.
Kuwait, the first Gulf country to adopt a parliamentary election system, back in 1962, has seen its “wise men” repeat the slogan that “the biggest problem in Kuwait is that there is no problem.” The source of this sarcastic quip is that opposition members lack a clear political program in raising the kind of real issues faced by one of the world’s richest countries, and one of the most advanced in terms of social, education, health and housing services. Granting these services to citizens has turned into a type of “clientelism,” accompanied by waste and corruption.
Some members of the opposition have covered their anger at being deprived of their share of these "beneficial" services by using overarching slogans that are too much for Kuwait’s social-political make-up to tolerate; these slogans ignore the pressing and essential problems, such as accountability for corrupt acts, and reining in public spending. Islamist members of the opposition have entertained themselves by issuing hard-line doctrinal laws that contradict the openness with which Kuwait has been characterized. This took place after they gained a majority in 2012; Parliament was then dissolved, and replaced by the previous legislature, based on the one-man one-vote law, compared to the earlier legislation that allowed each voter to vote for four candidates. Political stalemate then froze the legislation that would have dealt with profound development and reform problems in the structure of the state; in the struggle over power, the rhetoric of confrontation then won out. This allowed pro-regime loyalists to boast that the earlier, dissolved legislature was able to enact 28 laws and endorse 26 international agreements that the paralyzed legislature of 2012 was unable to act on.
Another fundamental problem is that the country’s development plan assumes a growth rate of 7.5 percent, while non-oil revenues, assuming a rise in oil production, will reach 4.5 percent (based on a report by the Finance Ministry and the Planning Council). This will generate an accumulated budget in the state budget that is frightening: KD 414 billion by 2020-2021. This will lead to bleeding the state’s reserves and the fund for future generations, which was a pioneering step for Kuwait when the body was established. In a country whose Constitution stipulates that the state provide work for Kuwaitis, the number of public sector employees will grow to 310,000 people (amid complaints about their lack of productivity, and the dominance of illicit self-enrichment), or one-quarter of the population. The indications are that there is a need to secure jobs for 460,000 graduates. Kuwait is the world’s fifth-leading country in terms of spending on education, while it is 90th in terms of the level of education; these are samples of the depth of the country’s huge problems.
If the new Parliament is able to produce, this assumes that there will be an emergency effort at the level of the rulers, or among the opposition, to keep pace with these problems, and the seriousness exhibited by both parties will be the determining factor in solving them.
Some Kuwait academics, legal experts, and economists hint that confronting these problems will require, in political terms, an agreement to expand the basis of rule in favor of social groups that have emerged during the past period of economic prosperity. And perhaps the vague nature of the demands put forward has produced random political behavior, and successive dissolutions of the legislature.
Any one of a number of things might be required: a second, upper house of the legislature; an increase in the number of seats in the 50-member Parliament; the direct election of the prime minister; contradictory laws should be updated; or the Constitution should be implemented by enacting a law that regulates the establishment of political parties. An all-around emergency effort should settle these issues, and it should be based on consensus.
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