26.06.2024 Author: Viktor Mikhin

Kuwait’s political upheaval continues

National Assembly of Kuwait

The Emir of Kuwait has dissolved the National Assembly once again and assumed some government duties, just six weeks after elections in the wealthy Gulf state, which has seen repeated and ongoing political crises.

The Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) reports that “an order was issued by the Emir to dissolve the National Assembly and suspend some articles of the constitution for a period not exceeding four years.” KUNA also reports that Emir Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and the council of ministers were “assuming the powers granted to the National Assembly.”

Reasons for the dissolution of the National Assembly

The head of state claimed that his move was in response to “interference” by certain members of the National Assembly with the Emir’s powers, and the attempt by others to impose “conditions” on the formation of a government. “We have faced difficulties and obstacles that cannot be tolerated,” he said in a speech broadcast on state television. He accused some lawmakers of “going so far as to interfere with the essence of the Emir’s authority and his choice of Crown Prince, forgetting that this is a direct constitutional right of the Emir.”

The current National Assembly, elected in early April, was supposed to meet for the first time in May. However, a number of members of the Assembly refused to participate in the government. Under Kuwait’s constitution, at least one lawmaker needs to be appointed as a cabinet minister until the makeup of the government is finalized. But the Prime Minister-designate has been unable to persuade any lawmakers to participate in the government. Sheikh Meshal said that the failure to form a government was the result of “dictates and conditions set by certain lawmakers.” Badr al-Saif, a political analyst at Kuwait University, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the Emir had taken a “historic step” previously seen in Kuwait only in 1976 and 1986.

The Emir’s latest action essentially suspends the entire parliament and the legislative branch of the country’s government. This situation understandably raises serious concerns across the country about the functioning of the Emirate over the next four years and the impact this step may have on democratic rights, economic reforms and national development overall.

Political organization of the Emirate

It is important to remember that the Emir of Kuwait is the head of state, who appoints the Prime Minister, and then together they appoint the members of the Council of Ministers. However, legislative power is vested in the 50 members of the National Assembly, who are elected by the people. The National Assembly has the power to hold Ministers to account publicly and directly during debate on issues, and it can pass a vote of no confidence in the Cabinet. In turn, the Emir and the Constitutional Court can dissolve the National Assembly.

Kuwait’s constitution was drafted in 1962 and came into force in 1963, at the same time as the first National Assembly was elected. In July 2023, the National Assembly attempted to strip the Constitutional Court of the right to dissolve it (Article 102 of the Constitution), as the Court’s attempts that spring to reinstate the previous National Assembly after national elections had taken place caused political chaos. That situation gives some idea of the political restlessness that has prevailed in the emirate for some time. Sheikh Meshal issued a royal decree amending seven constitutional articles, most notably Article 107, which provides a maximum of two months to elect a new National Assembly after dissolution, and Article 181, which prohibits the suspension of the Constitution.

At the time the national Assembly was dissolved, it had only just been formed, following public elections held in April this year. The last few years have been an unstable time politically, with 12 dissolutions of the national Assembly since 2006. However, this is only the third actual suspension of the National Assembly since its inception in 1963.

Parliament was first suspended in 1976 by Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Salem Al Sabah. The suspension lasted five years. Sheikh Meshal also amended articles in the Constitution, cancelling freedom of the press in an attempt to prevent attacks on various regimes. The second suspension was in 1986 due to constant clashes between the National Assembly and the Cabinet, caused mainly by high political tensions, bomb threats and falling oil prices. This suspension was in effect for six years. These suspensions were eventually lifted in response to public pressure.

Even before the most recent National Assembly was formed, its members committed numerous abuses of the democratic rights and instruments of the Assembly, with legislators interfering and imposing conditions beyond their authority. The Emir’s Secretariat believes that the deputies abused the Assembly’s question time by displaying disrespectful and even threatening behavior towards the Cabinet and making threats in connection with the Emir’s choice of Crown Prince. The National Assembly’s work was also characterized by persistent deadlocks and legislative blocks, which prevented progress in international business deals and much-needed national economic reforms to address the problem of oil seizures. In addition, Kuwaitis fear that the instability of recent years has contributed to corruption in state institutions. The Emir has on numerous occasions publicly issued warnings and called for more respectful behavior, as befits democratic processes, but these calls have not been heeded.

The new cabinet and its tasks

A new cabinet has been formed, headed by Sheikh Ahmad Al-Abdullah Al-Sabah as Prime Minister. It now falls to be decided how he will run the country for the next four years. Sheikh Meshal has announced that he will examine how best to move forward with reforms to Kuwait’s democratic system.

It is true that the Emirate has temporarily lost its National Assembly, an institution elected by the Kuwaiti people and secured by the struggles of previous generations. The absence of elections for the next four years will undermine Kuwait’s unique position in the Gulf Cooperation Council as a democratic country with a democratically elected legislative parliament. Preserving this democratic framework is crucial for the future not only of Kuwait but also of the rest of the Gulf States.

While this period of change is necessary, it will inevitably be a time of anxiety for many. However, the mechanisms of democracy have been abused for selfish and political purposes, and as the Kuwait Times writes, “corruption cannot be allowed to take root. This abuse was having a detrimental effect on our country and economy.” The newspaper also expresses the hope that in four years, Kuwait will have developed a more efficient system of government that will serve the entire nation.

Meanwhile, it is crucial that political stability allows Kuwait to undertake serious reforms to address major geopolitical challenges and develop its economy and infrastructure in order to facilitate its transition away from dependence on oil.


Viktor Mikhin, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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