Although Kuwait’s July 27 parliamentary election only slightly shifted the composition of Kuwait’s National Assembly, the changes are “surprising,” according to Kuwaiti political analyst Madhi Al-Khamees. A shift in the makeup of the tribal bloc and slight gains by liberal candidates constitute the most substantial changes to the makeup of the Assembly, and have made the body more “representative of various components of the Kuwaiti society,” according to Talal Al-Kashti, Director of Etijahat Research and Studies Centre.
Results released by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) indicate that Saturday’s election for 50 National Assembly seats concluded with tribal-affiliated candidates winning 24 seats, the same number won in the December 2012 election. Liberal candidates won three seats in the election, after not winning any last December. Shia-associated candidates won eight seats, a decrease from 17, while Sunni-associated candidates increased their seats from five to seven. Kuwait’s Information Ministry recorded voter turnout at 52.5 percent, an increase from December’s record low of 40 percent, despite high summer temperatures and opposition calls for a boycott. “The large number of new MPs gives hope that a National Assembly with greater popular backing can find a way of improving relations with the government,” said Gulf expert Kristian Ulrichsen, referring to the increased turnout. 52.5 percent turnout, however, is still lower than the average of 60 percent recorded in previous elections.
According to Reuters, Kuwait has the most open political system and powerful parliament of the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. However, the ruling family retains the right to dissolve the parliament when it wants, and, according to Jane Kinninmont, “the institution of parliament often functions as a de facto opposition to the government, rather than a partner in government.” IFES has developed a brief summary of the turbulent history between the Kuwaiti government and the National Assembly, shedding light on sources of voter apathy in Kuwait. According to IFES, “districting in Kuwait has been a point of tension between opposition groups and their government counterparts,” and numerous attempts by the government to amend the electoral law have frustrated voters.
Relations between Washington and the ruling al-Sabah family are generally positive. In a June 2013 address, Secretary of State John Kerry described the relationship as “very, very important,” and an October 2012 State Department fact sheet on U.S.-Kuwait bilateral relations describes a “long history of friendship and cooperation with Kuwait, rooted in shared values, democratic traditions, and institutions.”