Only in Kuwait can a super majority in an Election (say, 70%) win as little as 10% of the National Assembly (Parliament) seats up for grabs. This is due, unsurprisingly, to an electoral amendment that the Emir has put forth via emergency decree – right after dissolving an opposition-filled National Assembly.
The previous electoral law – a faulty one at that – was brought forth by popular demand, (even if it was written by the government itself,) and consisted of 5 voting districts, each one with 10 National Assembly seats up for grabs, where each voter had up to 4 votes to cast.
The fact that this change came about due to the determination of the people, only to be tampered with by an emergency decree at a time when there are no real existential threats to the country, gives one an insight into how this emergency decree disregards the will of the people – the majority of the people.
The implications of such radical change through electoral reform is not only an attack on freedoms in Kuwait, but a well executed attack on certain ethnic, political groups that the government openly claims are a threat to society.
Quashing tribalism is one of the declared objectives of this electoral amendment as stated by the government through its Prime Minister. Tribes, especially in the 4th and 5th voting districts were previously able to organize – by holding primaries – their ranks. The results of primaries were astoundingly democratic, yet the government perceived them as a threat because they ensured the success of tribal candidates; as in, tribes with huge voting blocs could predetermine the results of an election. Based on primary results, tribes would enlist 4 candidates, and with varying success, the majority of the tribe’s votes would be directed at those previously democratically chosen candidates thus ensuring their place in the National Assembly.
However, one overlooked factor in this attack on tribes is that tribes were already on the receiving end of a very bad deal; that is, the 4th and 5th voting district, the most populous in the country with some 100,000 and 120,000 voters respectively, tribes could only attain a maximum of 20 seats; whereas the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd voting districts, with 60, 40, and 70 thousand each, would attain 30 seats. With the single nontransferable vote per voter that the electoral amendment brought forth, tribes are not only forced into harsher electoral conditions, their primaries – that as previously mentioned were hugely democratic – are now rendered useless, and tribes could only organize their blocs over one candidate. Thus, if a tribal candidate were to win 70% of the vote and come in first place, the remaining 9 seats per district would be divided up between the remaining 30% of the voters making the election disproportional. Such a disproportional system isn’t only undemocratic and therefore harmful; it’s also a direct attack on tribal institutions that have become so modernized that they’re more reminiscent of political parties than tribes – a fact that ought to be lauded, not fought against. Make no mistake about it: this is an entirely racist amendment as stated by the declared objectives of the government itself.
Little mention has been made by the government of the ill effects of this amendment on political groups. (Political parties in Kuwait are illegal, although they work openly and, to some extent, freely.) Political groups; Liberals, in the form of Al Tahaluf (the National Democratic Alliance); Social Democrats/Pan Arabists/Socialists, Al Minbar (The Democratic Forum of Kuwait); and Hadas (Islamic Constitutional movement), a Muslim brotherhood affiliate, will be badly hurt by the government plans, too. Under the previous electoral system, these groups could form coalitions, or, better yet, run a ticket of as many as 4 candidates per voting district, to try to attain a majority of 20 seats in the National Assembly.
Now, though, this is as impossible, as it were previously improbable. With the new amendment, therefore, Political groups can only run a maximum of one candidate per voting district, giving them a maximum of 5 candidates on the condition that 100% of their respective candidates win in each of the 5 voting districts. To the imaginative among us, who question the validity of such a claim, the reply is thus: running a ticket or a number of candidates in one district is extremely difficult now, and this is due to two reasons that are in some ways interlinked; first, the “spoiler effect,” which means that any single vote cast to the wrong candidate on any given ticket could ruin the chances of all other candidates on the ticket of getting through; secondly, the strenuous task of organizing a ticket, and ensuring that each vote is cast to the right candidate. So, subsequently, the tampering with the electoral system has all but ended the hope for more political rights. In other words, the hope of winning a majority and thus pursuing a political program in the name of that majority has all but ended. Period. The effects of this move will – miracles aside - negatively harm Kuwait’s already somewhat dysfunctional democracy.
The context of this attack on democracy was, as stated by the government, to put an end to political stagnation: Orwellian speak for “they’re putting a stop to our plans, and we don’t want that!” The often-overlooked underlying context, however, is provided by government’s statements on the ills (tribalism, polarized voting, etc.) that this amendment will hope to correct.
Odd is the defense of this amendment by some democratic groups; odder still, is the insistence of some that boycotting the upcoming election is undemocratic. Both arguments prove contradictory to the facts. So, however one tackles this issue, there can be no mistaking that this is an attack mainly on tribes, who to the colonized mind seem an unhealthy feature to democracy, as well as, well-established political groups, in all their forms and ideologies.
I, for one, view this struggle optimistically as a chance for Kuwaitis to have their own Civil Rights movement; as the dialectical relationship between the government, and the majority of the people has been highlighted, and the interests of the two groups are now openly colliding, due the former’s move to undermine Kuwaiti democracy. In my opinion, we as citizens are finally learning through the praxis of liberation the unjust nature of political struggles against our filthy-rich government; i.e., we’re on the streets being confronted by the government’s violence, and their monopoly on media. And the results of this heightened tension, at worst, can serve to educate us for the future, or, at best, revoke this flawed amendment and the previously flawed electoral system, too, and bring about a fairer, more proportional electoral system.
Last word: I want to ask a simple question to those advocating that this move is well-intentioned and a step forward.
If the condition proposed here were to happen here, as it did in Jordan; i.e., an opposition candidate where to win 70% of the vote only to gain 1 seat, meanwhile his district produced 9 other opposing candidates on 30% of the remaining votes, would you still advocate this as a democratic amendment?