Show me the key!

July 25, 2013

Very few of us would turn down an opportunity to witness an exciting show, especially if this show involves heated competitions fuelled by differences in opinion and a multi-million dinar election campaign industry. Having said that, this past month has been one of the most exciting shows, not only by Kuwaiti standards but for the whole Gulf.

This Saturday, the 50-member unicameral Kuwaiti parliament Majlis al Ummah has all the ingredients to keep you at the edge of your seat. It has been a month full of developments: complicated characters, non-stop action, turning points, compromises, and last but not least a nail-biting wait for a happy ending!

You would expect the characters, who are at the centre of attention in election campaigns, to be mostly seasoned candidates; however, what makes Kuwaiti election campaigns unique is that the centre of attention is shared between candidates and their campaign ‘keys’.

These campaign keys, or mafatih intikhabiya in Arabic, are persuasive mavericks – soft spoken, hard bargainers, and established to-go-to guys if you want the results to be in your favour.

In this competition, it is not only ‘show me the money’, but also show me who your campaign key is. Unlike other parts of the world, including the Sultanate of Oman, where campaigns are more structured; managers, spokespersons, volunteers, endorsements – electoral campaign keys have to be all in one.

Their task is anything but easy, as Kuwaitis are among the most politically aware constituents, not only in the Gulf but the Arab world. This awareness makes convincing take more than good advertising and cliché campaign messages.

On the positive side, we have these campaign keys to thank for the lovely, entertaining and creative messages, songs and motivated volunteers Kuwait is famous for. On the other hand, this heated race often manages to bring the worst out of campaigns. This week around 50 campaign keys and candidates are still under investigation for alleged violations, including bribery, vote-buying, illegal campaign advertising, and other allegations.

As seasoned candidates and campaign keys were not enough to make campaigns here exciting, you have an old-new player who decided to put its foot down this time – the Kuwaiti authorities. Famous for being firmly flexible, authorities here this time decided to investigate the numerous complaints regarding unfair competition that have agitated Kuwaitis for a long time. This created non-stop action and a cat and mouse chase between authorities and campaigners who are trying to bend the law but not break it in a last-minute effort to get that one, or more, extra votes that will guarantee the win this Saturday.

Despite the firm crackdown by authorities, it is unlikely that they will be able to stop all forms of vote-buying, intimidation, and other forms of bullying among the highly polarised pro-government, pro-opposition, and other campaigns.

As campaigns reach their climax, surprises tend to just happen. In this case, there is a heated last minute race to reach out to the thousands of voters who did not vote in the previous election. This boycott during the previous elections, which may have contributed to the around 40 per cent voter turnout, happened mainly in protest of the one-man, one-vote decree that many argued is an executive branch attempt to control the legislative arm.

Many analysts here believe that the constitutional court decision to uphold the one-man, one-vote rule annulled the election committee. Hence, dissolving the previous parliament and paving the way for this election offer a compromise that will almost definitely contribute to a much higher voter turnout this July 27.

In addition, the Emir of Kuwait’s visits with sheikhs of a number of big tribal coalitions is seen as a savvy move that would convinced tribesmen and tribeswomen to vote in this elections, hence making a dent in the previously more solid opposition coalition, that included many from the aforementioned tribes.

As Friday is electoral campaign silence day, supposedly, it would offer many Kuwaitis that opportunity to think about what is probably the million dinar question: Would the result of the elections be in favour of pro-government or pro-opposition or independent candidates and bring the much-needed hope and progress? Let us just pray: Inshallah.