Kuwait’s snap election amid an ongoing political crisis: A guide

A feud between the government and the parliament has led to multiple dissolutions and elections in recent months.

Kuwaiti MPs speak with parliament speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim
Kuwaiti MPs speak with parliament speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim [File: Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP]

Kuwait is holding its second parliamentary election in a year, a snap election called amid its ongoing political crisis that has seen a shuffle of the parliament numerous times in recent months.

Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming election:

What is Kuwait’s political structure?

  • Kuwait has a monarch from the ruling al-Sabah family, Emir Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah, but his paternal half-brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Meshaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah has recently taken on a larger role.
  • The emir holds the most powerful position in the country and appoints the prime minister who, in turn, chooses the cabinet to be appointed by the emir.
  • The country’s prime minister is Sheikh Ahmad al-Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the son of the current emir.
  • The country’s 65-seat National Assembly has more influence than in other Gulf monarchies, challenging the executive branch at times.
  • Fifty seats in the parliament are up for grabs in the upcoming election. The remaining 15 are seats reserved for the cabinet.
  • Political parties have not been legalised in Kuwait, so candidates run as independents.

When is the parliamentary election?

  • The elections to elect 50 representatives in the National Assembly are being held on June 6.
  • This will be Kuwait’s third election in three years; its 10th since 2006.
  • This time, 207 candidates are running, a 10-year low, according to local daily al-Jarida.

When was the last parliamentary election?

  • The last election was held in September 2022 in which the opposition made significant gains.
  • The election was held after the government dissolved the 2020 parliament in August 2022, in a bid to end the ongoing feud between the government and the elected parliament that has hampered fiscal reforms.

What happened to that parliament?

  • Kuwait’s Constitutional Court annulled the September 2022 election in March 2023 and restored the previous 2020 assembly.
  • However, on May 1, the crown prince dissolved the reinstated 2020 assembly.
  • The election on June 6 is being held because, according to Kuwait’s constitution, an election for a new parliament must be held within two months of the date of dissolution.
Kuwaiti MPs attend a session in Kuwait City, on April 4, 2023.
Kuwaiti MPs attend a session in Kuwait City, on April 4, 2023 [Yasser al-Zayyat/AFP]

Why has the parliament been in disarray, sparking so many elections?

  • The government and the elected parliament have been bickering over a controversial bill that proposes the government take over consumer and personal loans of Kuwaiti citizens.
  • The government says the move would be too expensive, costing almost $46bn in public funds.
  • MPs argue it would cost significantly less, less than $6.5bn.

What has been the impact of the country’s political gridlock?

  • The ongoing rift between elected lawmakers and an appointed cabinet has resulted in a decay of social services like healthcare and education.
  • Despite holding one of the world’s largest oil reserves and having a strong fiscal and external balance sheet, the turmoil has stalled much-needed investments and reforms.

Why was the last election a hopeful one for many?

  • The Kuwaiti citizenry, of which there are about 750,000 registered voters (2022 estimate) out of a population of about one million, according to a 2023 estimate, was driven to the polls buoyed by a royal promise that Kuwait would enter a new era.
  • The election also led to a majority opposition presence, with a number of establishment politicians voted out.
  • It also saw the return of women, absent since 2020, to the parliament with the election of two women MPs, Jinan Boushehri and Alia al-Khaled, in an election where some 22 women ran among 305 candidates.

What is the state of women’s human rights and representation in Kuwaiti politics?

  • Women represent 51.2 percent of registered voters and earned the right to vote in 2005.
  • Since the Constitutional Court annulled the September 2022 election in March, the parliament has been all-male.
  • Women’s human rights issues like inheritance and property ownership persist.
  • Several women candidates are among the 207 running in the June 6 election.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies