Last month’s elections, the 7th since 2006, were held after the parliament of one of the world’s wealthiest countries had been dissolved in late October. This time 454 hopefuls, more than in previous elections, registered to run for Kuwait’s 50-seat parliament. This is explained by a number of Islamist groups that ended their election boycott as the tiny emirate is worried at the squeeze by low oil prices which led to painful cuts in long-standing welfare benefits as the fiscal balance is expected to turn into a deficit as of 2016 (of -3.5% of GDP). These Islamist groups did well in the elections as candidates won almost half of the seats, while the former National Assembly only held 20 seats. This can be explained by the discontent of the Kuwaiti population with government-proposed measures endorsed by the former parliament.
Impact on country risk
Kuwait has a majority Sunni population with a minority Shia population of around 30%, who live together largely in peace. Kuwait managed to avoid an uprising like those that ousted leaders in several Arab states since 2011, but political stability depends on cooperation between the government and parliament. A series of assemblies have collapsed in recent years due to power struggles between the elected parliament and the appointed cabinet, in which the ruling family holds top posts. The last relatively pro-government parliament was dissolved nine months before the completion of its four-year term, in a move not to allow the opposition candidates any time to prepare for a campaign. The election outcome suggests that Kuwait can expect a period of political turmoil as the new parliament is expected to fiercely oppose to austerity measures. Legislators have the right to cross-question and even impeach ministers. Strong opposition both inside parliament and among the population is therefore likely to constrain the government’s ability to pursue economic reforms without facing a political crisis. However, as the Prime Minister (picked by the hereditary emir) will appoint a cabinet that can also vote, parliament’s power is relatively limited. In addition, though the country is arguably the Gulf’s most powerful legislature, the emir has the final say in state matters and can dissolve the parliament (again).
Analyst: Jolyn Debuysscher, email@example.com