No women won seats; many new faces; voter turnout of 60% higher than expected
The election for Kuwait’s National Assembly (parliament) resulted in an all-male parliament and several previous MP losing their seats, signalling a change in direction.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, voter turnout was higher than expected, at 60 per cent.
While strict health guidelines were put in place, voters complained of long lines and crowded polling stations.
This is the first time that Kuwait has held parliamentary elections since 2016, excluding the 2019 by-elections that took place in only two districts to replace two MPs who were removed from office.
Whilst a date has not been set, in accordance with article 87 of the Kuwaiti constitution, parliament should hold its first session within two weeks of the end of the general election.
Out of the 342 candidates who ran, there are several MPs who will be joining the legislative branch for the first time.
In addition, many who won seats were MPs who served in previous terms. One of these is Hasan Johar, who received the highest number of votes in the first electoral district, after being absent for almost eleven years, as he ran for the last time in 2009.
Forty four of the previous 50 MPs ran for re-election, and only 19 of them won. One of those re-elected, Adnan Abdulsamad is the current longest serving member of parliament, as he was first elected in 1981 and has served 11 terms.
While there were 31 women running, the highest number of female candidates in Kuwait’s history, none won in this year’s election. Compared to previous years, this is the largest number of women to have ever run for parliament since they were given the right to vote and run for office in 2005.
There were 567,694 eligible voters, and voter turnout was higher than expected despite various reasons, from COVID-19 pandemic to the ongoing boycott movement.
The main effect the pandemic has had on this year’s election is the barrier between candidates and voters, due to health regulations, mainly restricting large gatherings and public talks. In addition, some people did not vote out of fear of catching the virus at the polling booths.
As for the boycott movement, ever since 2012, when the late Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah issued an Emiri decree to change the electoral system from a four-voting system to a single nontransferable vote, there has been a large boycott movement and an increased demand for electoral reform.
While the boycott movement is still active, it is not as strong as it was back in 2016. Several candidates who have boycotted the elections in the past are running this year.
Many have predicted that the 16th legislative term will not complete four years and will be likely to be dissolved. The 2016 parliament was only the sixth legislative term in the history of Kuwait to hold a supplementary fifth session, otherwise known as the closing session.
Only seven parliaments have completed four years since the National Assembly was established in 1963.
According to Article 107 of the Kuwaiti constitution, “The emir has the right to dissolve the parliament by a decree that shows the reasons for this dissolution. And if the parliament is dissolved, new elections for a new parliament should be held in no longer than a two-month period from the date of dissolution.”
Between 1975 and 2016, nine parliaments were dissolved by an Emiri decree.
This is also the first election held since Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmed Al Sabah became Emir of Kuwait in September. Although it is customary for the government to hand in its resignation when a new Emir is sworn in, Sheikh Nawaf reaffirmed his confidence in the current government and asked them to carry out their duties until the elections were over.
While the legislative and executive branches are split, the Emir chooses the Prime Minister who then appoints the cabinet of ministers, which is then required to receive approval from the National Assembly.
Fifty MPs were elected by the Kuwaiti people, ten from each electoral district. But, parliament is made up of an additional 15 ministers, bringing the total of members in parliament to 65.