By Yasmena Al-Mulla
KUWAIT: The upcoming 2020 National Assembly elections, scheduled for December 5th, will be the 18th election in Kuwait’s history. The parliamentary elections are an important aspect of Kuwait’s political fabric as it determines who will shape Kuwait’s legislative branch. According to the Kuwaiti constitution, the parliament is the legislative branch that is in charge of proposing laws. While the parliament has significant power, according to Yousef Al-Azmi, an employee at the National Assembly, “the constitution is the highest law, meaning that any law proposed by the parliament should not violate the constitution.”
Structure of parliament
The Kuwait parliament, a unicameral system, is the single legislative branch in Kuwait. The parliament has a maximum of four-year term, made up of four sessions, and sometimes a fifth closing session if the parliament completes its four years. The legislative branch is made up of 50 MPs that are elected by the Kuwaiti people and up to an additional 15 appointed ministers who make up the government. At least one of the ministers must be an elected MP.
Of the 50 MPs, one is elected as speaker of the parliament and another as a deputy, during the opening session of the new term. Also during the first session, the 65 members vote on who joins which committee and if the number of candidates are the same as the number of committee members, then they automatically become a member. Each MP is allowed to join a maximum of two committees.
“While there are no specific requirements to join a committee, an MP chooses a committee depending on his background. For example, historically the legislative committee has always been made up of MPs with a background in law,” Azmi told Kuwait Times. According to article 43 of the Parliament’s procedural law (in Arabic known as Laehat Al-Dakhleya), there are 10 permanent committees in parliament, most of which have five members, except the legislative, public utilities, budget and financial and economic committee who have seven members. Each committee has a head, who is elected by the committee during the first session.
There are also temporary committees that are suggested and decided on at the beginning of every session. For example, the women and family committee is a temporary committee and its responsibilities are determined at the beginning of every session. Although the committee is only made up by MPs, ministers are allowed to attend meetings, but they cannot vote on the proposed law in the committee.
Ministers enjoy the same privileges as MPs as they get to vote on laws, once presented on the floor of parliament, and vote during the opening session for committee members and the speaker of parliament. With that being said, they are not allowed to vote during a no confidence vote against a minister, as per article 101 of the constitution. In terms of political parties, while the constitution does not prohibit the formation of political parties, Kuwait does not have any because they are not legally regulated. For example, there are several de facto political blocs in parliament but they are not recognized by the law.
How laws are passed
There are several procedures that are done before a law can be passed by parliament. First, the proposed draft is suggested in front of parliament (as an acknowledgment). Then it goes to the parliamentary preparations department (known in Arabic as the Edarat edad Al-parlimany) to help write with the wording and the legal terminologies. Once they are done, they transfer it to the legislative committee, where they determine whether it is constitutional. If it is approved, then they return it to the parliament. Then the parliament directly refers it to the respective committee.
As each committee discusses the proposed law, according to Article 50 of the Parliament’s procedural law, ministers may attend committee sessions when a matter related to their ministry is being discussed. The minister needs to orally or on paper state his opinion, which is read out loud in front of the parliament before a vote is taken, “so that the government’s stance is made clear,” Azmi clarified.
For a proposed law to be made final by the committee, the majority of the committee members need to approve it. Once the law is finalized, it is sent along with the government’s comments and the report from the legislative committee to the floor of the parliament for the first deliberation. After the first deliberation, the members of parliament get a chance to propose amendments to the law. It is then referred to the committee once again for final approval, before it is presented again to the floor for a second deliberation vote.
In order for a vote to take place, a simple majority of the 65 members need to be present. The constitution stipulates that this quorum must include some representation of the government, whether it is the prime minister alone or “some of its members,” which is usually interpreted as three ministers. According to Azmi, during the last legislative term, the most law that was proposed to be amended was the Election Law No 42 of 2006; around eight to 10 times. He also pointed out that, throughout the history of the parliament, the Nationality Law is one of the laws that has been amended the most.
Elections for parliament
Kuwait is divided into five electoral districts, thus the 10 candidates that get the highest number of votes in their electoral district are elected to parliament. Each electoral district is made up of several areas, distributed as follows: 19 areas in the 1st district, 13 areas in the 2nd district, 15 areas in the 3rd district, 19 areas in the 4th district and 22 areas in the 5th district.
When the National Assembly was first created in 1963, there were 10 electoral districts, which were then changed to 25 districts in 1981. It is only after the ‘Nabiha Khamsa’ (we want it five) movement in 2006 that the electoral districts were changed to five. On election day, every registered voter heads to the designated polling station in their area to cast a vote for one candidate.
Throughout Kuwait’s history, the number of candidates a person can vote for has changed multiple times. For the first 18 years, each citizen had the right to vote for five people. Then in 1981, it was changed to two candidates per citizen, which lasted until 2006. Between 2006 and 2011, Kuwaitis had the right to vote for four candidates.
Following an Amiri decree that was issued in 2012 by the late Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the election law was changed to a single-vote system. Protests broke out and many opposition figures initiated a boycott movement to express their discontent with the change. While many of the opposition figures have fled the country or have refrained from participating in elections, many citizens as well have decided to continue to boycott the elections until the single-vote system is changed.