Friday, April 20, 2018 | ePaper

Parliamentary Life

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His Highness Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, Prime Minister of the State of Kuwait

Democratic practice in Kuwait is imbued in the Kuwaiti entity itself.
His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Amir of the State of Kuwait, has reaffirmed Kuwait's adherence to democracy when he said that "Democracy is deeply rooted in ourselves and is not imposed on us". The Kuwaiti people have experienced democracy since a long time and it is viewed as a positive development in Kuwait's march to peace and progress.
The institutionalization of democracy is deep rooted in the social structure of Kuwait. Indeed, Kuwait's Parliamentary experience weaved its way through to the present form through gradual and steady development which characterized the growth of the Kuwaiti society and state system since its inception.
The Al-Sabah family, led by its patriarch, Sheikh Sabah 1, always adhered to consultation practice based on tribal traditions in his efforts to shape the destiny of Kuwait, as far back as 1752.
The Kuwaiti tradition encourages consultation and expression of ideas and opinions in Kuwaiti Diwaniyahs among the different segments of the society, irrespective of their social status. What emerged as a consensus had an impact on the formulation of State Policy which reflected popular will. Thus, the Diwaniyas, numerous in number, served as a defacto consultative body in the earlier days.
Historically, elections in Kuwait go back to 1756 when the people of Kuwait unanimously elected Sheikh Sabah the First as the Head of State.
As Kuwait entered the 20th century, the need of the time brought about further development of the democratic institutions. Kuwait has known consultation system as the basis of government since 1920 when the first State Consultative Council, comprising of 21 prominent citizens, was formed during the reign of Sheikh Ahmed Al-Jaber. It was indeed a historical indicator of a serious attempt to create a democratic atmosphere.
This was followed by the Municipal Council comprising of 14 members of which 10 were elected by the people and the rest 4 were appointed. This Council made all types of decisions and recommendations.
In 1938, the first elected Legislative Assembly with 14 members was formed through general elections. This undoubtedly had a tremendous impact on the political life of the Kuwaitis. This was followed by the formation of the State Consultative Council.
After Kuwait gained absolute political independence on 19th. June 1961 through the termination of the January 1899 Friendship and Cooperation Treaty between Kuwait and Great Britain, new parliamentary life was initiated through the election of a Constituent Assembly that was entrusted with the task of framing the State's constitution.
Democratic experience in Kuwait became more mature, conscious and open with the election of the first Kuwaiti National Assembly in 1963.
The Parliamentary experience passed through a process of trial and error with each new experience strengthening the democratic spirit and institution.
An Amiri decree in December 1980 set up 25 constituencies, increasing the number from 10.
A constituent Council set up through an Amiri Decree in 1989 to recommend specific changes in the constitution to suit the need of the time, was in session when the country experienced a brutal aggression on August 1, 1990. Kuwaiti stint with parliamentary practice was a major target of this aggression. Parliamentary life was restored through General Elections held in October 1992 for the Seventh Legislative terms. Kuwait witnessed a democratic festival when Parliamentary elections were held in July 2003 to elect the National Assembly for the 10th Legislative term. Over 130,000 voters went to ballot centres in 25 constituencies across Kuwait to elect their representatives in Parliament.
Institutionalization of democracy in Kuwait was further consolidated when in May 2005, in a land mark development, parliamentary elections based on adult suffrage included women electorates and candidates for the first time. In the last Parliamentary elections in December 2012, three women were elected Members of Parliament. One of them was inducted in the Cabinet as a Minister.
New Elections were held in November 2016 in which the government alliance group retained its majority with 26 seats while the opposition alliance registered an increase in their seats to 24.
A Parliamentary Deputy must be at least 30 years of age on Election Day. Government servants have to relinquish their respective positions prior to their contesting the polls. The technocrat Ministers not elected in the National Assembly are considered members in it by dint of their position in the cabinet. However, they do not participate in committees' work and cannot vote when an interpolation leads to a no-confidence motion against one of the Cabinet Members.
Kuwait is divided into 25 electoral constituencies with each constituency electing 2 representatives in the Assembly. Earlier, a voter could elect four members of his choice. However, in 2013, an Amiri Decree introduced the one man one vote system to institutionalize democracy.
The 50 seat unicameral Legislature is elected for a four year term. Currently, there are five geographically distributed electoral districts. Regular Annual Session is no less than eight months subject to budgetary sanction.
The Assembly sessions are only valid when more than half of its members are present. Decisions are taken by absolute majority of the members present.
Parliamentary representation is on a non-party basis since there are no active political parties in Kuwait. However, there are various groups representing varied interest groups. Elections in Kuwait meet a relatively high standard of fairness. The Government does not interfere or influence the voting mechanism.
His Highness the Amir of the State of Kuwait has the Power to dissolve the Assembly and in such an event, new elections are held within two months.

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