Kuwait elects only one woman to new parliament

Jenan Boushehri, who was elected in the annulled parliament of 2022, attracted 5,048 votes to finish sixth

Only one of 13 women candidates managed to win a seat in Kuwait’s latest parliamentary election in which 10 first-time members were elected to the country’s National Assembly.

Jenan Boushehri, a former cabinet member who was one of two women elected in the annulled parliamentary election in September, received 5,048 votes and placed sixth of the 10 successful candidates in Kuwait's third constituency.

About three quarters of the declared winners of the September election were elected again in Tuesday’s election while 10 new candidates, most of them young, managed to beat incumbent MPs.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al Sabah resigned on Wednesday following the announcement of the election results and was assigned by emiri decree to continue in a caretaker role, the official Kuna news agency reported.

Two hundred and seven candidates contested the election – the lowest number since 1996.

Voters braved sweltering heat – the temperature reached 44ºC at midday – to cast their ballots for a third time in as many years during a deadlock between the appointed government and elected parliament.

Only about 50 per cent of the 793,000 registered voters had cast ballots by the time polls closed at 8pm.

In March, the constitutional court annulled the results of last year's election – in which the opposition made significant gains – and reinstated the previous parliament elected in 2020.

The emir called for a new election last month after dissolving the reinstated 2020 parliament because of the persistent political deadlock.

Kuwait adopted a parliamentary system in 1962 but repeated political crises in recent years have resulted in state paralysis, with consecutive elected assemblies dissolved by the ruling emir.

Kuwait is divided into five constituencies, with each electing 10 members of parliament.

Each voter has the right to cast one ballot for one candidate under a decree approved by the late former emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah in 2012.

Previously, Kuwaitis could vote for four candidates per constituency.

Female representation

Ms Boushehri thanked the third constituency – where 137,978 Kuwaitis were registered to vote – for re-electing her.

“I extend to those of the third constituency, women and men, with boundless and countless gratitude for your trust that you have bestowed upon me for the second time in a row. Foremost of which is in protecting the country and its money, and supporting political and economic reforms so that we can advance the country for its future, and for the sake of your present and the future of generations,” Ms Boushehri said.

Ms Boushehri, who has served as minister for service affairs, for housing and for public works prior to her time in parliament, was one of several MPs who submitted requests to question government ministers while she was in office.

Former parliamentary speakers Marzouq Al Ghanim and Ahmed Al Saadoun also won in their respective constituencies and are expected to vie for the post.

Alia Al Khaled, the only other woman to be elected in September, was 17th among the candidates in her constituency with 1,608 votes.

Calls for political reforms

Kuwait is the only Gulf Arab state to have an elected parliament with powers to hold the government to account through measures such as votes of no confidence against cabinet ministers, including the appointed prime minister.

The political impasse between parliament and the government under Prime Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nawaf Al Sabah has mainly involved a draft bill calling on the government to take over the consumer and personal loans of Kuwaiti citizens.

The government said the move would be too expensive, costing almost $46 billion in public funds, while MPs said it would cost less than $6.5 billion.

During a speech in April, Kuwait's Crown Prince pledged political reforms as part of a decree he announced on behalf of the emir, which called for snap elections.

Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al Sabah said the “will of the people” required new elections that would be “accompanied by some legal and political reforms to take the country to a new phase of discipline and legal reference”. He did not specify the reforms.

Kuwait bans political parties but has given its legislature more influence than similar bodies in other Gulf monarchies, and political stability has traditionally depended on co-operation between government and parliament.

Political observers in Kuwait expect the deadlock between parliament and the government to continue.

“The deadlocked status quo will continue absent much-needed radical reforms. The reforms need to get to the heart of the matter and tackle structural issues related to the country’s political system,” Bader Al Saif, assistant professor of history at Kuwait University, told The National.

“Other urgent fixes should include repealing laws that restrict freedoms; seeking a general amnesty for the remaining politically motivated cases; and instituting a comprehensive electoral law reform,” he said.

Updated: June 07, 2023, 8:55 AM