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By SANA ABDALLAH
AMMAN, Jordan, July 1 (UPI) -- The democratic
exercise in Kuwait's early parliamentary elections may have given the
oil-rich emirate something to boast about, but the polls seem to have
backfired against the regime with the opposition's sweeping victory.
The new emir of the oil-rich Gulf state, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad
al-Sabah, dissolved parliament on May 21 and ordered early elections in
an effort to end a political crisis between the government and
legislature over electoral reforms.
But the results of the June 29 elections, which brought to
parliament an even bigger opposition of liberal and Islamist members,
constitutes a setback for the al-Sabah regime as the new parliament is
expected to push harder for democratic reforms and fighting corruption.
The opposition swept two-thirds of the 50-seat parliament as a
coalition of 33 liberal and Islamic candidates won, up from 29 members
in the dissolved legislature, with several independents who can sway in
favor of reforms.
Although these were the first polls to include women in this small
oil-rich state, none of the 28 women candidates managed to grab a
While al-Sabah congratulated the candidates on their victory as
Kuwait set a democratic example for the rest of the Gulf and Arab
region, analysts say the emir, who assumed power in January, has more
to worry about now as he takes the next two weeks to form a new
government, in which fifteen cabinet members are entitled to vote in
The reformers in the dissolved parliament, most of whom were
re-elected, had threatened to stop cooperating with the government if
it did not reduce the number of voting constituencies from 25 to five
in an effort to stop vote-buying and other irregularities. The
opposition had rejected a government offer to reduce the districts to
ten and the dispute gave birth to a so-called "orange revolution" of
active, yet tame, youth taking to the streets calling for reforms to
fight what they say is state-sponsored corruption.
The straw that broke the camel's back and prompted the emir's
dissolution of parliament was a threat by reformer parliament members
to grill the prime minister, Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Sabah, a nephew
of the emir.
Analysts say with a larger opposition in the new parliament that
ran on a platform of reforming the electoral bill and fighting
corruption, the ruler of Kuwait will now need to shape a new government
that excludes key ministers the opposition accuses of corruption and
inefficiency, such as outgoing energy and information ministers, Sheikh
Ahmad al-Fahd al-Sabah and Mohammad al-Sanousi respectively.
While the Kuwaiti parliament has no constitutional powers to vote
out cabinet or prime ministers, it can declare its refusal to cooperate
with the government, leaving the next step to the emir, who would
either dismiss the prime minister and appoint a new cabinet, or
dissolve parliament and call for new elections.
Analysts say the fact that reformers gained yet more ground under
the disputed 25-constituency system should give more weight to the
pro-government forces seeking to maintain so many districts. The
pro-government forces could argue these polls prove that the number of
districts has no effect on the voting exercise and does not necessarily
favor one trend over another in a country where political parties are
banned, but groups of different political trends are free to work.
However, the opposition victory -- even under the disputed system
-- has given more strength to the reformers in their demands to change
the elections bill and has put the emir in a tight position that may
lead him to finally yield to diluting the voting districts to five.
Kuwaiti analysts say if the emir wants to avoid plunging the
country into another political crisis between the establishment and the
reformers, who are gaining more grassroots support, he would need to
name a new government with clear instructions to agree on the
sought-after elections bill. After that, he may resort to dissolving
parliament again and order fresh polls according to a five-constituency
system. Otherwise, the emir would allow parliament to live out its
four-year term and hold the next elections in 2010 under the new
Either way, the opposition would have achieved a peaceful victory
unseen in the conservative Arab Gulf region where free elections are
practically non-existent. Such a victory could also set a precedent
that may unleash more demands for deep-rooted reforms deemed taboo and
revolutionary, threatening the status quo of ruling families.
The campaigns during Kuwait's elections saw unprecedented sharp
criticism of the government, and by de facto the ruling al-Sabah
family, questioning its role in the running of the state's affairs
where the emir has the final say in all matters.
Some Islamist candidates, having won 21 seats in parliament, are
even seeking to turn the emirate, which sits on 10 percent of the
world's oil reserves, into a constitutional monarchy where the prime
minister and cabinet members are not appointed by the emir and his
However, once the issues that united the forces from the far-left
to the far-right under the umbrella of the opposition have been
resolved, the coalition of the reformers may easily collapse and
restore strength to the regime.
The new reformer parliament members extend from Islamists seeking
an Islamic state system and opposing women participation in the
elections, to secular liberals aspiring for a more westernized Kuwait.
Analysts expect the government to capitalize on the disharmony
between the two sides to weaken the opposition and move on with its
agenda that would maintain the status quo as much as possible.
In the next few months, Arab eyes will undoubtedly remain fixed on
this tiny state in anticipation of the kind of change the people hope,
and ruling families dread, would infect the rest of the region.