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ICC Note:
“The results [of Kuwait’s elections] empowered a loose Islamist-tribal coalition of opposition candidates which disappointed liberals and set the stage for continued political fireworks in the coming months,” Foreign Policy reports.
By Gwenn Okruhlik
2/8/2012 Kuwait (Foreign Policy) – Thursday’s parliamentary elections in Kuwait reflected the intense drama unfolding in the country over the last four months — youth-led street protests, corruption charges that implicated 13 Members of Parliament (MPs), the November storming of the parliament to protest corruption, the dissolution of parliament by the emir, and the resignation of the embattled prime minister. The election campaign was marked by vitriolic rhetoric and violence. And the results empowered a loose Islamist-tribal coalition of opposition candidates which disappointed liberals and set the stage for continued political fireworks in the coming months. Despondent moderates surveying the outcome repeatedly complained that, “nobody is representing the middle.”

The loose Islamist-tribal coalition of opposition candidates won about 34 seats in the 50-seat parliament. Islamist candidates won 14 seats, while tribal candidates, half of whom might be called Islamist, took 21 seats. The opposition group is clearly tapping into voter sentiment. Tribal opposition MP Musallam al Barrak from the Fourth District was elected with the highest number of votes ever cast for a candidate.
At the same time, the so-called Islamist-led opposition is far from a monolithic coalition. Some Islamists are ideologues; others are not. Religious fervor was not a central campaign call. Islamist candidates proved themselves to be better organized and more politically savvy, articulate, and eloquent. Many younger candidates have risen through social organizations and civil society. They have been “groomed” to be effective leaders over the years. Nor are tribal voters a monolithic bloc. There is an emerging generational divide among tribal voters as many tribal MPs were implicated in the corruption scandal. Interestingly, the controversial tribal primaries were not an accurate predictor of the tribal vote in the general election.
Liberals fared poorly, however. None of the four women MPs elected in the last parliament won seats; in fact, not one of the 23 female candidates was elected. Liberals saw their seats reduced from eight to five, and Shiite from nine to seven.[i] Shiite MPs have generally voted pro-government. Further, the Shiite MPs include five supported by the Shiite institutions while only two identify as liberal and nationalist. There are only four Independents. Columnist and former Minister of Information Sami al Nesf called the election results “a tsunami of wrath and fury against governmental and legislative corruption…and against moderate voices.”[ii] Columnist Waleed al Rujaib sees it as a “clear manifestation of tribal and sectarian sentiments and a continuation of corruption in our society.”[iii] But for their own part, the relatively small liberal contingent is divided and does not work together in any coherent way. One liberal voter summed the electoral outcome this way, “We deserved this! We allowed this to happen.”

Some liberals do fear the Islamists will “turn Kuwait into Saudi Arabia.” Upon his election, MP Mohammed Al Haif announced that, “The ground is now fertile to amend the second article of the constitution to facilitate the road to change making sharia the sole source of legislation in Kuwait.” The simple revision of one article — changing “a” to “the” — alters the legal framework of the state of Kuwait. An official spokesperson soon countered that the government will not stand idle in the face of such efforts. Women, in particular, fear the imposition of dress codes and increased gender segregation. Two winners, MP Mohammed Hayef and MP Faisal Al Mislem, had, in fact, previously formed a Committee to Curtail the Negative Phenomena at Kuwait University. They set limits on women’s dress and integration on campus. They also targeted feminine men and masculine women. But others point out that Islamists have long competed in Kuwaiti elections and been represented in parliament, and are unlikely to behave in fundamentally different ways today than in the past.

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