Kuwait holds first parliamentary election under new Emir

By Ahmed Hagagy

Kuwait (Reuters) – Kuwait held its first parliamentary election on Thursday since Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah assumed power late last year with a focus on expediting economic reforms after protracted deadlock between appointed governments and elected parliaments.

The new Emir strongly criticised the National Assembly and the government in his first speech before parliament after taking office in December, saying they were “harming the interests of the country and its people”.

His reform-focused approach with scant tolerance for political bickering seemingly aims to propel the small Gulf Arab state to catch up with neighbours in weaning its economy off oil.

Decades-old feuding between appointed governments and the elected parliament has impeded fiscal reform, including passage of a debt law that would allow Kuwait to tap international markets and mitigate its heavy dependence on oil revenues.

The polls opened at noon (0900 GMT) in the election, the fourth since December 2020, and will close at midnight local time. Kuwait bans political parties and candidates run as independents.

Sheikh Meshal, 83, succeeded his late brother Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad in December and dissolved parliament on Feb. 15, less than two months into his tenure.

His decree cited the assembly’s “violation of the constitutional principles” as a reason for dissolution.

Kuwait’s assembly wields more influence than similar bodies in neighbouring Gulf monarchies. But political deadlock has led to endless cabinet reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament, paralysing policy-making, but the Emir holds the upper hand.

The government of Sheikh Ahmed Al-Nawaf resigned hours after the Emir’s December speech and Sheikh Mohammad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah formed a new one that included new ministers of oil, finance, foreign affairs, interior, and defence.

(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy; editing by Maha El Dahan and Mark Heinrich)

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