Elections in Kuwait
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Elections in Kuwait are held for both the National Assembly (Majlis al-Umma) and for the Municipality. Kuwait's 1962 constitution calls for elections to the unicameral National Assembly at a maximum interval of four years. Elections are held earlier if the Constitutional Court or Emir dissolve the parliament.
Kuwait has universal adult suffrage for Kuwaiti citizens who are 21 or older, with the exception of
( 1 ) those who currently serve in the armed forces and, ( 2 ) citizens who have been naturalized for fewer than 30 years.
In practice, Kuwait's recently naturalized citizens do have the right to vote. The government does not enforce (2) of the Constitution, thus naturalized citizens always had the right to vote and run for election.
The Explanatory Memorandum of the Constitution bars members of the ruling family of the Mubarak branch (the branch from which the Emir must descend) from running for election to the National Assembly, though the Memorandum does not explicitly prohibit these members of the ruling family from casting votes. It is not clear if the prohibition on candidacies would be enforced. Some members of the ruling family are found on the voter rolls, though prominent members of the family do not vote.
The franchise was expanded to include women on May 16, 2005, in a 35–20 vote with one abstention. When voting was first introduced in Kuwait in 1985, Kuwaiti women had the right to vote. This right was later removed. In 2005, Kuwaiti women were re-granted the right to vote.
Kuwait's citizenship law, in theory, gives citizenship to those who descend, in the male line, from residents of Kuwait in 1920. However, most Kuwaiti citizens are recently naturalized foreign immigrants.
Districts and voting procedures
Kuwait was divided into ten districts in the National Assembly elections between 1963 and 1975. Each district elected five deputies to the Assembly. Before the 1981 elections the government redistricted Kuwait, creating a system of 25 districts. Following the redistricting, fewer Shi'ite candidates won seats in the Assembly. This was a deliberate result of the redistricting, and it followed the 1979 Revolution in Iran.
Each of the 25 districts elected two members to the National Assembly, for a total of 50 elected members (additional members sit as appointed members of the cabinet). Each voter could cast ballots for two candidates, though it was also possible to vote for only one candidate. In each district the candidates who won the largest and second largest number of votes earned seats in the National Assembly.
In 2006, the National Assembly passed legislation to divide Kuwait to 5 electoral districts only, which was a major issue in the preceding election campaign. The voter now can cast votes for 4 candidates and in each district the highest 10 candidates earn seats. It is hoped that this would make vote buying more difficult and decrease the importance of tribe, family and sect in elections.
Sectorial primaries are illegal in Kuwait, though the prohibition is rarely enforced and in practice some districts do hold primaries. These primaries allow families to avoid splitting their votes among a number of different candidates, thus helping families to ensure that their members vote for one or two candidates, making it more likely that these candidates will win seats in the National Assembly. Many Kuwaitis oppose these primaries on the grounds that it increases the importance of familial affiliation and makes it more difficult for those who do not belong to families to win seats in large districts.
Fairness of elections and government interference
Elections in Kuwait meet a relatively high standard of fairness. The government does not interfere in the counting of the ballots.
The Kuwaiti media – with a number of Arabic language dailies – extensively cover campaigns. Candidates have ample opportunities to meet with voters. The very small size of districts makes electronic media less important in elections. Candidates enjoy a wide degree of freedom to take political stands, and the press extensively covers statements made by candidates.
In recent years Kuwaiti elections have been marred by persistent reports of vote buying. Both the government and wealthy candidates are accused of buying votes, and it is widely thought that the overall effect is to help pro-government candidates. In the 2003 elections several groups launched campaigns to discourage Kuwaitis from selling their votes.
Some candidates emphasize their close ties to the government and promise that, if elected, they will deliver government services to their constituents. In the parliament, these deputies are known as "service deputies." It is widely thought in Kuwait that the government promises the delivery of services to other deputies in exchange for votes on important issues.
It can be difficult to summarize Kuwaiti election results. Political groups and parliamentary voting blocs exist, however, actual political parties are illegal. While it is possible to determine how well the members of formal political groups fare in elections, most candidates do not belong to one of the formal political groups because most candidates in Kuwait's elections run as Independents, thus are not affiliated to any political groups. Some of these candidates may receive support from one of the formal political groups and others adopt a clear ideological position as liberals, populists, Islamists or leftists. Some candidates associate themselves with the government. Yet in a number of cases it is difficult to determine, and to classify, the ideological positions of candidates and deputies.
In 1999 elections, the secular, liberal bloc emerged as the largest bloc in the parliament and predominated the election winning more than 14 seats.
Once elected, many deputies form voting blocs in the National Assembly. Following the 2003 elections, according to Al-Dustoor (a Kuwaiti newspaper published by the National Assembly, July 20, 2003) 10 deputies joined the Islamist bloc; 9 joined the Popular Bloc (a populist group that includes both Sunni and Shi'i deputies); 7 joined the liberal bloc.
The earliest modern elections in Kuwait were held in 1921. Elections were held again in June and then in December 1938 for a majlis al-tashri'i, or Legislative Council. The ruling family dissolved the second Council in 1939. Following independence in 1961 elections were held in 1962 to elect 20 members to the constitutional convention.
The 1962 constitution calls for elections to be held at a maximum interval of four years (or earlier if the Emir dissolves the parliament). Kuwait's first National Assembly was elected in 1963. Subsequent elections were held in 1967, 1971, and 1975. In 1976, however, the Emir issued a decree suspending the parliament. New elections were held in 1981 and again in 1985, but the Emir again suspended the parliament in 1986. Following protests, the government held elections to an unconstitutional majlis al-watani in 1990, just before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Most Kuwaitis rejected this majlis: organized political groups, across the political spectrum, boycotted the elections and did not run candidates. Only a few deputies from previous parliaments ran for seats in the majlis al-watani, and most of these were from outlying districts. Fulfilling a promise made during the Iraqi occupation, the Emir held new elections for the National Assembly in 1992. Elections were held again in 1996. On May 4, 1999, the Emir once again dissolved the National Assembly. This time, however, it was done through entirely constitutional means, and new elections were held on July 3, 1999. Parliamentary elections were next held on July 5, 2003. On May 21, 2006, the Emir dissolved the National Assembly through constitutional means.
The next elections were held on June 29, 2006. Over 340,000 Kuwaitis, including about 195,000 women, were eligible to vote for 253 candidates, including 28 women, but the women candidates failed to win a single seat This was also the case at the election held on May 17, 2008. However, at the subsequent election, held on May 16, 2009, four women were elected to the National Assembly, for the first time in Kuwait's history.
Elections were held in July 27, 2013. Voter turnout was an estimated 52.5%, which was higher than expected despite an opposition boycott, the voter turnout was only 7% lower than the turnout of the non-boycotted February 2012 elections (59%). Liberals were the biggest winners of the election.
According to the Associated Press, liberal lawmakers gained at least six seats. The Congressional Research Service reported that liberals won 9 seats, making them the largest political bloc in the parliament after pro-government Independents. Fox News reported that the tribal bloc won at least 10 seats in the 50-member parliament. Two women were elected. The Shia group was reduced to eight seats after winning 17 seats in December 2012. Sunni Islamists won 3 seats.
|formal or informal group||Seats||Ref|
|Total (turnout: 53%)||50|
- Al-Qabas, May 31, 2006
- Apollo Rwomire (2001). African Women and Children: Crisis and Response. p. 8.
- "Kuwaiti Women Join the Voting After a Long Battle for Suffrage" by Hassan M. Fattah, The New York Times, June 30, 2006 (Free registration required)
- IFES Country Profile Kuwait
- Ismail Küpeli: Kuwait: Frauen dürfen jetzt wählen. from: Direkte Aktion (Nr. 177, Sept. / Okt. 2006), p.9-10
- Worth, Robert F. (May 18, 2009), "First Women Win Seats in Kuwait Parliament", The New York Times: 18, retrieved January 15, 2014
- Kuwait election: Shia candidates suffer at polls BBC News, 28 July 2013
- Suliman Al-Atiqi (September 12, 2013). "One Man, One Vote". Carnegie Endowment. "As a result, the divided members of the opposition rendered themselves obsolete as the country witnessed a 52.5 percent voter turnout in the July 2013 election—up from the boycotted 40 percent, and 7.5 percentage points shy of the last non-boycotted election."
- "Kuwait's conservative tribes make election gains". Associated Press. 28 July 2013. "Liberal lawmakers seeking greater social and political freedoms gained at least six seats, the results showed."
- "Kuwait: Security, Reform, and U.S. Policy". Congressional Research Service. August 30, 2013. p. 10.
- "Kuwait's conservative tribes make gains in parliamentary elections". Fox News. 28 July 2013.