Few changes after Kuwait holds first parliamentary election under new emir

Opposition candidates won 29 seats in the 50-member assembly, closely matching the outcome of last year’s polls, official results show.

TOPSHOT - Former parliament speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim (C) greets supporters after his victory as a member of parliament in the legislative elections in Kuwait City early on April 5, 2024. Parliamentary polls have become an annual occurrence for Kuwait, the OPEC member country, which boasts seven percent of the world's oil reserves and the Gulf's most powerful elected assembly. (Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat / AFP)
Former parliament speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim, centre, greets supporters after his election as a member of Kuwait's parliament [Yasser Al-Zayyat/AFP]

Opposition politicians maintained a majority in Kuwait’s parliament, results have shown after the country’s third parliamentary vote in as many years.

The polls on Thursday were the first to be held under new Emir Sheikh Mishal al-Ahmad al-Sabah who came to power late last year after the death of his half-brother and predecessor, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah.

The official KUNA news agency said on Friday that opposition candidates had won 29 seats in the 50-member assembly, matching the outcome of last year’s election.

Results also showed a single female candidate was elected, the same as in the previous parliament, while Shia Muslim legislators secured eight seats in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country, one more than last year. Seats for the Islamic Constitutional Movement, which represents the Kuwaiti branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, fell to one from the previous three.

Overall, the makeup of the new parliament is very similar to the outgoing one, with all but 11 politicians retaining their seats.

“No radical change was expected in the results,” said Bader al-Saif, assistant professor of history at Kuwait University.

“This is one of the lowest change ratios,” he told AFP news agency.

Turnout was about 62 percent after polling stations closed at midnight, the information ministry said.

Parliamentary elections have become an annual occurrence for Kuwait, which has seven percent of the world’s oil reserves and the monarchical Gulf’s most powerful elected assembly.

However, disputes between the national assembly and the royal-appointed cabinet have caused constant deadlocks, delaying much-needed reforms. The vote was the third since 2022 and the fourth in five years.

Political showdown

With little change to the parliamentary lineup, the political impasse is expected to continue, according to al-Saif.

“A new showdown is in the making,” he said, adding that “some of the new faces are quite outspoken.”

Sheikh Mishal has been eager to push through economic reforms in what observers say is an apparent attempt at helping the OPEC producer to catch up with Gulf neighbours which have been implementing ambitious plans to wean their economies off oil.

The 83-year-old took aim at the last National Assembly and the government in his first speech before parliament after taking office in December, saying they were “harming the interests of the country and its people”.

The government of Sheikh Ahmed Al-Nawaf resigned hours after the speech. Sheikh Muhammad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah formed a new government that included new ministers of oil, finance, foreign affairs, interior and defence.

Sheikh Mishal then dissolved parliament on February 15, less than two months into his tenure. His decree cited the assembly’s “violation of the constitutional principles” as a reason for the dissolution.

The new parliament will be tasked with approving the emir’s choice of crown prince, Kuwait’s future emir.

If the assembly takes the unprecedented step of rejecting his heir, Sheikh Mishal will submit three candidates for parliamentarians to choose from.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies