Kuwaiti Parliament: A Special Case
By Mahmoud Al Abed
English News Editor
Albawaba.com – Amman
Kuwait is the only Gulf country to have an elected parliament, even though women are not allowed to vote. However, the legislature has proved to be a special case in the region and in the Arab world in general.
What is so special about the Kuwaiti parliament is that, by default, it has to confront the ruling Sabah family in many of the issues debated under its dome. This is simply dues suspected of corruption, overspending, or other misdeeds. Because key ministries like Finance and Defense are almost always in the hands of members of the ruling family, this has created a certain tension when parliaments have sought to question ministers.
On Monday, the lawmakers called on the government to resign for failing to take adequate steps to tackle graft cases which run into hundreds of millions of dollars and involve a former minister, according to an AFP report.
"The government is protecting thieves of public funds. Either we (MPs) admit we cannot safeguard public money, or this government must be made to resign," opposition MP Mussallam al-Barrak was quoted as telling parliament.
The cases concern embezzlements in Kuwait's foreign investments, huge military procurements and other public establishments, especially the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company (KOTC) graft case, in which former oil minister Sheikh Ali Khalifa al-Sabah is involved.
Becoming a thorn in the side of the government, the parliament was prorogued outright in 1976, 1986 and 1999.
After nearly five years without a legislature, Kuwait in the early 1980s managed to survive just over five years with one. By the summer of 1986, parliament had become constantly critical of the government and the ruling family. In the wake of allegations of a coup plot, and amid the continuing instability of the Iran-Iraq war, Emir Jaber al-Sabah dissolved the only elected legislative body in the six Gulf Cooperation Council states again on July 3, 1986.
In May, 1999, the emir also dismissed the 50-seat house, hours after legislators threatened to remove his Islamic Affairs minister for mistakes in 120,000 printed copies of the Quran.
Elections took place on July 3 upon a call by the leader, the first time a Kuwaiti emir has followed the constitution and called for elections within the stipulated 60 days.
The 1999 Majlis al-Umma (National Assembly) elections saw pro-government independents gain 13 seats, with various independents, opposition liberals and Islamists taking the remaining 37 seats. The next elections are due in 2003.
However, not all the Kuwaitis are pleased with their representatives. The emir decreed in 1999 that Kuwaiti women should have the same rights as male citizens, but the parliament, facing strong opposition from its Islamist and tribal members, voted down a proposal to give women the right to vote. Women went to court, but in vain.
Analysts also see the legislature as an obstacle to economic reform plans.
“Parliament is part of the problem,” says Simeon Kerr from eCountires.com. “Kuwait's limited democracy impedes the reform process, which the government is largely keen to pursue. Many legislators see privatization as a real threat to the well being of their constituents. The bloated public sector employs around 90% of Kuwaiti nationals, who generally have a comfortable wage and easy life. Giving up those perks is going to create a political backlash. Then there are other MPs who object to the concept of privatization: selling off the family silver is seen as a dent to national pride. "
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)