Announcement last week by His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on dissolution of parliament, was not a surprise to most analysts of Kuwait’s political landscape, nor was it unexpected to ordinary people watching parliamentary goings-on over the last several months. Dissolution was the only viable outcome to the prevailing acrimonious relations between the executive and opposition members in parliament. The only surprise to the dissolution was that it was so late in coming?
As early as December 2020, when general elections were held for the 50-seat National Assembly and candidates with opposition leanings made a strong show, analysts had predicted a short lifespan for the 16th term of Parliament. The fact that the term extended for all of 15 months, is on its own quite a remarkable feat given the happenings in Parliament during the interim. In a little over a year, the National Assembly witnessed the swearing-in and resignations of three cabinets, all headed by His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid.
For all those who could read it, results from the general election held in December 2020 was the proverbial ‘writing on the wall’. Ensuing events in the National Assembly over the next 15 months proved the writing right, and sealed the fate of Parliament’s 16th legislative term. Outcome of the elections in 2020 saw opposition members winning 24 of the 50 seats at stake, dashing any hope of reconciliation or cooperation between the executive and legislative arms of government.
The first Cabinet that took its oath of office before the National Assembly on 15 December, 2020, lasted less than a month. The prime minister tendered the resignation of his Council of Ministers on 13 January 2021, citing discordance and inability to work with opposition members in parliament. Even going by the short duration of some previous governments, the fleeting tenure of the first Cabinet was a record in Kuwait’s parliamentary history.
A second Cabinet lineup, which was sworn-in on 2 March, 2021 lurched from one crisis to another until it too duly resigned on 8 November of last year, over disruptions to parliamentary proceedings by some opposition members. The third Cabinet, which took the oath of office in front of His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad on 28 December 2021, once again on cue tendered its resignation on 5 April 2022.
Back in January 2021, as the 37th government in Kuwait’s parliamentary march took office, The Times Kuwait had presaged the fate of the 16th legislative term. In a lead story titled, ‘A new beginning with an old script’, we had written that “the issues that preoccupied the previous government and parliament will continue to haunt the present ones, and so will returning members”.
Inaugurating the first session of the 16th legislative term, His Highness the Amir had called for active cooperation between the executive and legislative to achieve common benefits. He urged lawmakers to honor the aspirations of the people for the sake of achieving development, and said that parliament members should “work as one team, shoulder-to-shoulder” in order to have a prosperous and secured nation.
It was obvious to us even back then that although both branches of government were speaking the language of change, and of a new beginning, what the country would have was more of continuity. With the executive and legislative holding onto their rigid, preset notions on pivotal issues, any hope of cooperation and coordination were unfounded. And, much as before, finding ways to push forward progress, revive growth and ensure development of the country would remain a low priority for the 16th legislative term.
We had opined that with several new, young lawmakers who were not exactly new or young in their views; with a male-dominated parliament that in the past had failed to reflect issues facing women or effectively champion their causes; and with increase in number of opposition members alone unlikely to revamp the functioning of parliament, the initial euphoria of change in the air that voters were expecting, could very well remain right there, in the air.
Following resignation of the first cabinet, His Highness the Premier brought together a new lineup of ministers to form his second Council of Ministers. By removing some ministers whom the opposition considered inimical to their cause, and introducing a largely fresh batch of ministers, Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid hoped that the second cabinet would have a smoother sailing in parliament. But this was not to be; the opposition soon mounted a virtual blockade of parliamentary proceedings that eventually led to yet another resignation.
Ahead of forming the third cabinet, there were reports of extensive background consultations between the government and opposition to find an amicable middle-ground so that parliamentary proceedings could move forward smoothly. In order to facilitate this transition, His Highness the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah granted a pardon to several dissident political figures, who were in self-imposed exile in neighboring countries to avoid jail sentences passed on them by Kuwait’s courts.
But this offer of an olive branch also did not prove to be a lasting solution to what has become an ingrained antagonistic approach in relations between the executive and some members of the legislature. Before long came a grilling of the prime minister that he, by most accounts, confronted ably. Nevertheless, opposition figures called for a ‘vote of confidence’, which was however precluded by the resignation of the Cabinet on 5 April.
Rinsing and repeating the same tried prosaic formula — fresh elections, followed by swearing-in of a new cabinet; allegations and confrontations in parliament that then lead to cabinet resignations, and eventual dissolution of the National Assembly — is clearly not working. The leadership obviously needs to try something new this time around. However, there was no hint of anything new in His Highness the Crown Prince’s television address last Wednesday in which he announced the dissolution of Parliament.
Although official media had announced that His Highness the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah would address the nation on Wednesday 22 June, the Amir who has the constitutional power to dissolve parliament, made only a brief appearance on television. He stated that Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal had been designated to speak on his behalf and added, “We hope the speech will explain the current developments.” He prayed to Allah Almighty to bestow “our beloved nation with security, and further progress and prosperity.”
In his address on behalf of the Amir, His Highness the Crown Prince, who had been officiating for the Amir since last year, stated that while the ruling family respected Kuwait’s constitution, popular dissatisfaction over the dysfunctioning of parliament had compelled the Amir to intervene and constitutionally dissolve the National Assembly. He noted that the domestic political scene was being “torn by disagreement and personal interests” to the detriment of Kuwait.
He explained that the political stalemate was “due to the disturbance in the relationship between the legislative and executive authorities, the interference of the legislature in the work of the executive, and the executive’s abandonment of performing its required role in the correct manner, and the lack of commitment by some to the great oath that they had pledged themselves to work to achieve political stability and dedicate its service to the country and citizens.
“Our goal with this constitutional solution is the firm and sincere desire for the people themselves to have the final say in the process of correcting the political course anew, by choosing the right lawmakers to represent them in parliament,” said Sheikh Meshal. He affirmed that the “Kuwaiti constitution is untouchable and is the foundation of legitimacy in the pact between the leadership and the people to ensure Kuwait’s security, stability and prosperity”.
Citing article 107 of the Kuwait constitution, the Crown Prince added, “It is in national interest I seek dissolution of the National Assembly and I urge the Kuwaiti people to elect a new house that can bear the great responsibility of maintaining state stability, and realizing the hopes and aspirations of citizens. He further stressed, “And out of our keenness to strengthen popular participation, we would like to assure you that we will not interfere in the people’s choice of their representatives.”
He further stated that an Amiri decree on the date for new elections would be issued in the upcoming few months. He also called on the upcoming National Assembly and the Government to cooperate, coordinate and pay great efforts to realize the aspirations of the people.Urging the Kuwaiti people to quit any unconstitutional and illegal behaviors that harm the country’s security and stability, he added, “incorrect choice of your representative will harm the interest of the country and the people and will bring us back to square one, to an atmosphere of intolerance, rivalry, non-cooperation, and giving priority to personal interests at the expense of the homeland and citizens.”
It is obvious to all but the very politically myopic that there has to be a drastic overhauling and remolding of Kuwait’s style of governance. Providing the same response repeatedly and expecting different results, is certainly not the best of options available to the leadership. Incidentally, there was a hint of this in the Crown Prince’s address. In what could be construed as an oblique reference to other tools available with the leadership in case the next elections do not amend the current situation, Sheikh Meshal called on citizens not to miss the opportunity of the upcoming elections to correct past choices.
He added, “We appeal to you, our dear countrymen, not to miss the opportunity to correct the course of national participation so that we do not return to what we were before, because this return will not be in the interest of the country and the citizens, and in the event of its return we will have other measures of heavy impact and event.” While the Crown Prince did not elaborate on what those measures were, it is quite obvious that a coherent and decisive approach is sorely needed to end the political paralysis that has gripped Kuwait for years.
The deep-rooted divisions on structural and institutional issues that underpin the prevailing discord in parliament between an appointed Cabinet and some of the elected representatives, is not going to change with yet another new election, a new premier, or a new government in place. While there are several viable solutions to ending the prevailing political stalemate, implementing most of them would require decisive actions from the powers at the top. Whether such decisions could be expected any time soon is for the leadership to decide. Kuwait is waiting.
The Times Kuwait Report