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Kuwait - Political Snapshot


Kuwait's ruler has the title of "Amir" who are drawn from the Al-Sabah family who have ruled Kuwait since 1756.

Kuwait's current head of state is Amir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah.

According to the BBC, Sheikh Sabah succeeded Sheikh Saad, who ruled for just nine days after Sheikh Jaber died on 15 January 2006 having spent more than 25 years on the throne. Parliament voted Sheikh Saad out of office because of his ill health. Sheikh Sabah had been running Kuwait's day-to-day affairs for years. He became prime minister in 2003 when concern grew about the health of his predecessor in the post, Sheikh Saad.

The Amir appoints the prime minister and two deputy prime ministers. The Council of Ministers is appointed by the prime minister and approved by the Amir.The legislative power is vested in the Amir and the Assembly. The executive power is vested in the Amir, as the head of state, and in the cabinet.

The Amir appoints the heir to the throne in cooperation with the National Assembly. The succession procedure is enshrined in Kuwaiti constitution which states that anyone who is to be nominated as the Amir of Kuwait must be one of the descendants of the late Mubarak al-Sabah.

Political landscape

The country is divided administratively into six regions: Ahmadi, Farwaniya, Hawalli, Jahra, Mubarak Al-Kabir and the Capital (Kuwait City). Each is headed by a governor who has ministerial rank and is appointed on recommendation of the Minister of Interior.

Kuwait is a constitutional hereditary emirate. According to its constitution, Kuwait's political system is based on the separation of powers. The National Assembly has legislative power, but the Amir plays a direct role in legislation through his right to propose or to defer a bill.

Kuwait's National Assembly (Majlis al-Umma) consists of 50 members who serve four year terms. All 50 members chosen in elections by male members of the country only. The 50 are elected in 25 geographical constituencies, two members from each. About 12 of the constituencies are rural, desert areas where bedouin tribes still constitute a substantial part of the population.

The relationship between the Amir and the National Assembly can best be summed up as follows:

The Amir may formulate decrees, however their approval depends of the National Assembly Decrees which have been ratified and have become bills by the National Assembly may be revised if the Amir requests their re-consideration. However the bill automatically becomes law if it is subsequently passed by a two-thirds majority at the next sitting, or by a simple majority at a subsequent sitting. The Amir may declare martial law in an emergency, but only with the approval of the Assembly. Ministers from the Al Sabah family who have been chosen by the Amir are answerable to the National Assembly. The National Assembly has the right to force the resignation of a minister through a vote of no confidence

Over the years, the Kuwaiti National Assembly has proved itself to be an effective voice of opposition against the Amir's policies. In fact according to some experts the Kuwaiti National Assembly is one of the liveliest political places of debate in the Arab world. The country's tolerance of political opposition has matured to a point where Parliamentarians are not shy of bringing government ministers who are directly related to the Amir for questioning and in some cases to call for their resignation. In summary although the Amir is Kuwait's ruler, the National Assembly is an ever present watchdog over his rule and the conduct of his ministers. Subsequently on many occasions the National Assembly and the government have found themselves locked in debates and at loggerheads regarding a number of issues, which in one case (Jan 2001) lead to the Cabinet resigning en masse due to the parliament's opposition to their policies. This is in addition to Parliament being suspended from 1976 to 1981, from 1986 to 1991, and most recently in May 1999 to July 1999 . In each instance, the Amir disbanded the National Assembly due to irresolvable conflicts between different members of the government.

Reform has been a key factor in the transition of Kuwait's political landscape. However the need for reform as far as the Amir's system of authority over Kuwait is concerned. This is mainly due to the fact that quite a number of Kuwaitis are concerned about the lack of performance of the senior members of the Al Sabah family who are in authoritative positions. Their concerns arise out of the fact that quite a number of such leaders are elderly, in poor health and out of touch with the daily needs of Kuwaitis mainly because they take little active part in daily political life. The good news is that it seems that the Amir has taken heed of such calls and younger, more liberal minded members of the Al Sabah family (such as Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed al-Sabah and Energy Minister Ahmed Fahd al-Sabah) are being groomed for positions of power. Although the real important test will be how much change they can bring.

At the same time, the Kuwaiti National Assembly also needs to contribute to the process of reform and to Kuwait's political and economic progress. Current issues over which the National Assembly can have an important impact are the Amir's proposed decree calling for women's right to vote, and economic decrees for liberalisation of the Kuwaiti economy.

By: Meir Javedanfar- www.meepas.com