Tsunami of change dumps old guard by the wayside

Amir congratulates winners; Big names fade, small tribes shine

KUWAIT: The 2016 National Assembly elections sprang a number of major surprises that included the failure of many big names and the battering of the three biggest Bedouin tribes, outgoing Assembly members, and Shiite candidates. At the same time, the election saw significant gains by the opposition and its supporters, an important injection of fresh young blood and a stellar and unexpected performance by smaller tribes.

Meanwhile, HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah sent cables of congratulations yesterday to the winners of the elections. The Amir wished the winners success in their duties aiming to serve and develop the dear homeland. HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent similar cables to the new MPs.

Writing on his Twitter account, political analyst Salah Al-Fadhli described the election results as a “tsunami of change because they were like a tornado that uprooted many figures”. Only 20 out of the 50 members of the outgoing Assembly were re-elected, a massive 60 percent turnover. As many as 42 members of the dissolved house contested the polls, while the remaining did not take part for a variety of reasons.

Prominent among those defeated include former public works minister Ali Al-Omair, who secured a small number of votes in the third constituency, former minister of justice and Islamic affairs Yacoub Al-Sane and deputy speaker Mubarak Al-Khrainej.

In the first constituency, prominent losers included former Shiite MPs Faisal Al-Duwaisan, Hussein Al-Qallaf and Yousef Al-Zalzalah. As a result, Shiite strength in this key constituency dropped to four MPs compared to five previously. Former MP Abdulhameed Dashti was prevented from contesting and remains outside the country.

Divisions within parts of the community impacted the Shiite performance and reduced them from nine MPs in the previous house to just six. At the same time, former commerce minister Salah Khorshid and Khaled Al-Shatti, both Shiites, managed to return. Other prominent figures who lost include former MPs Kamel Al-Awadhi, Abdullah Al-Turaiji, Ahmad Al-Mulaifi and Ahmad Al-Qudhaibi, all Sunnis. This was more than compensated by impressive wins by former MPs Abdullah Al-Roumi, Adel Al-Damkhi and Osama Al-Shaheen.

The country’s three major Bedouin tribes – Awazem, Mutair and Ajman – which normally had between 15 and 18 seats among them, managed only a meager seven seats, their worst performance ever. At the same time, smaller tribes made an unexpectedly strong showing, with almost all small tribes represented. The Enezi tribe, which normally has one or two seats, this time bagged four, and tribes that usually never won seats have at least one each.

Jahra, which makes up almost a third of the fourth tribal constituency, won six of the 10 seats in the district against two to three seats normally. Mutair, the largest tribe in the constituency which usually wins four to five seats, managed only one, because too many Mutairi candidates split the votes. In the fifth constituency, the Awazem and Ajman used to win four seats each out of the available 10. On Saturday, the Awazem only won a single seat, while the Ajman bagged two.

The other main losers were pro-government Salafist Islamists, who along with supporters had about 6-7 seats in the previous house, but were reduced to nothing, with figures like Ahmad Baqer, Omair, Humoud Al-Hamdan and Ahmad Al-Azemi all losing. This is the strongest blow to this group. The opposition-linked Salafists however returned to the Assembly in an impressive manner, winning five seats along with supporters. The Islamic Constitutional Movement (ICM), the Muslim Brotherhood-linked group, gave one of its best performances, winning around six seats, while they only had one supporter in the outgoing Assembly.

Although the opposition and its allies made an impressive showing, winning nearly half of the Assembly seats, a number of key opposition figures lost. These include former MPs Mubarak Al-Waalan, Salem Al-Namlan, Hussein Al-Mutairi and Hamad Al-Matar. The opposition’s performance and weight will depend on its unity and whether it can form a formidable force in the Assembly.

The first litmus test will be the battle for the speaker’s post. At least two figures – MP Shuaib Al-Muwaizri from the opposition and veteran MP Abdullah Al-Roumi, also close to the opposition, have already said they will compete with outgoing speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem. So Kuwait appears at a crossroads: If the government fails to cooperate with the opposition, it is tipped to witness a repeat of the political crises of the past few years, but this can be avoided if a cooperation formula is reached.
Analyst Dahem Al-Qahtani said the opposition had made an “impressive showing”. “Kuwaiti voters have punished those who let them down… and rejected the austerity measures,” he told AFP. Qahtani said for the government to prevent a standoff, it should make initiatives for cooperation with the opposition. “If the government makes such initiatives, it may succeed in striking a needed political balance and avoid disputes,” he said. “If not, confrontations could start from day one,” Qahtani said.

“There are many issues that could spark disputes: Economic measures, revoking of citizenships and others,” political analyst Mohammad Al-Ajmi told AFP. Analyst Ibrahim Al-Hadban said the election campaign had shown that some of the decisions taken by the government were not popular among citizens, including raising gasoline prices. “MPs who were in the Assembly did not object to these decisions. So, in my view, they were blamed and punished,” Hadban, who teaches political science at Kuwait University, told Reuters.

By B Izzak

This article was published on 27/11/2016