Back to the future!

July 29, 2013

Do you remember the time you anticipated exciting news only to find out that the more things change the more they remain the same?

This might be how many feel about grand finale of the elections of the new Kuwaiti parliament Majlis al Ummah, which happens to be the sixth parliamentary elections in the past seven years. Technically speaking, there has been a tremendous change in Kuwait this week - around 53 per cent voter turnout, a new parliament with some young members, more participation and a new beginning. However, a deeper assessment of the results of this elections might make you wonder whether there was a significant change.

First, the around 53 per cent, which is a jump from last year’s around 40 per cent turnout might have dealt a severe blow to the opposition, and this could result in unbalanced much-needed negotiations that would help avoid the dissolution of Majlis al Ummah, and move development projects forward. The government tactics to divide and conquer the opposition worked, as at least five former opposition members from various backgrounds ditched the boycott citing the June 16 constitutional court decision and participated in the elections. However, this divide and conquer strategy does not guarantee that the parliament would not be dissolved again. Given the fact that the member with highest votes received around 5,000 votes, where as an opposition figure received around 30,000 votes in the last elections he ran it is not clear that the new MPs are as charismatic as the opposition figures.

The second aspect that did not change much is the identity-based politics. The fact that everyone you talk to in Kuwait says that they reject identity-based politics - yet they still mostly analyse these results based on identities. You will find that there are now eight Shiite members, ten Sunnis, two Salafis, and the rest are liberals and independents. This indicates that despite being one of the most politically aware constituents in the Arab world, Kuwaitis are still struggling to get over the rising divisions and sectarianism in the region.

Third, two women were voted in this parliament, down from three in the previous election. However, these two women are previous members who are not new to the political scene - Dr Masouma al Mubarak and Safaa al Hashim. The failure of new faces such as the dynamic hopeful Riham al Jelwi might indicate that young voices did not get a chance this time either.

Keeping the status quo seems to be the name of the game in the region these days. Moderate conservatives, or so-called Islamists seem to be on a losing spree as many chose to boycott this elections. On the other hand, ultra conservatives and liberal figures associated with big businesses seem to make gains.

Looking at the winners and losers and the persisting identity politics, those who were hoping for a significant change this time around in the Kuwait elections might have to wait a little longer.