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Kuwait: Amending the Constitution Averts Conflict | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It almost seems as though the Kuwaitis enjoy the electoral process more than focusing on what is required of MPs following their victory. Once again the candidates’ tents have been pitched, banquets are being held and propositions are being put forward. Many Kuwaitis expect the new relationship between the government and National Assembly to fail, and if one of the two parties believes that it can rise above and abandon the other; then it is mistaken because Kuwait cannot make any progress as long as one party believes that it can desert the other.

What is striking about then upcoming elections (17 May 2008) is that a number of the candidates, or the coming National Assembly’s* MPs, know that clashes with any government and any National Assembly are inevitable and will happen again. This conflict began with the first royal decree to dissolve the parliament in 1967 – and to this day the reason for the conflict has remained the same.

In fact; it is the constitution itself that cannot cope with the present age. According to a Kuwaiti politician who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, 40 years ago the constitution was incapable of keeping up with the times and thus cannot cope with the 21st Century today.

“The conflict will be present in any scenario no matter how transparent the intentions are. There are numerous articles in the constitution that define the nature of the relationship between the two authorities, including the division of power, which continues to this day. The division of power is an obscure matter; it is ambiguous and involves considerable intervention from both parties – and is moreover not implemented on the ground,” the source said.

He referred to an article in the Kuwaiti constitution that is “completely suspended” despite the fact that it calls for the necessity of reviewing and amending the constitution to allow for more freedoms (article 174 section 5). This area remains to be a “minefield” that no one discusses or ever even refers to. This is why one finds that some politicians in Kuwait adapt the constitution to serve their interests or political agenda.

The Kuwaiti politician said, “When it comes to cooperation, generally speaking, the constitution in its entirety should be the determining factor. You cannot deal with the constitution as though you were in a restaurant picking what you like from the menu and ignoring what you dislike. There must be equality between all its articles and they must all be dealt with in the same manner.”

Throughout the world, constitutions regulate the basics but never delve into the particulars, and yet in Kuwait there is an article in the constitution that is almost impossible to implement; it stipulates that the members of the National Assembly must be 50 in total. This article was inserted in the constitution in 1962 at a time when Kuwait’s population did not exceed 200,000; however today, the number of residents is estimated at two million – of which one half are Kuwaiti nationals.

“No one raises the issue of increasing the number of MPs,” revealed the Kuwaiti politician, “likewise, no one broaches the necessity of calling for a national conference or for holding discussions about the national agenda to say that the constitution should facilitate matters – not hinder them. Today, the constitution is regressing, which is why it must not be used as a pretext to obstruct any development project in the state. This must not happen, and the constitution must not paralyze political life.”

There are a number of matters that reflect the ideologies of the pioneering legislators in 1962. It is common knowledge amongst all Kuwaitis that they are obsolete ideologies that are no longer appropriate, especially with regards to the future of Kuwait or what would advance the Kuwaitis so that they can stay abreast with the changing times.

In the past discussions used to revolve around nationalization but today; they center on openness, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the necessity of involving the world and international companies to boost Kuwait’s revenues. The nationalization law preventing intentional companies from searching for new oil, for example, is an old one that MPs adhere to and refuse to amend. Meanwhile, some Kuwaiti politicians and businessmen believe that the more international involvement in the state, the more strength and support it will yield to national security.

But there is another matter, which is that Kuwait is not isolated and is open to the whole world. According to the Kuwaiti politician, “When we speak of Kuwait becoming an economic center there is no boasting involved. We must stop crying over the ruins of the past and the Kuwait of the ’60s and ’70s. This period has passed. At present, unless Kuwait becomes open to the world and a point of attraction for foreign and international [projects], not only will it lose its importance but it will also endanger its national security.”

“From a purely interest-centered viewpoint, this issue must be highlighted, and consequently; priorities must not be replaced by other things that would obstruct us from reaching this goal,” he added.

However; all such proposals are considered taboo in Kuwait today and simply broaching them is deemed espionage and treason.

In answer to the question as to whether there was an idea or inclination towards setting up a committee to review and amend the constitution, the politician said, “I have not read about this matter but it is no longer a matter of choice but a necessity. The younger generation should take on this mission because they need to safeguard their children and grandchildren. My generation lived through the invasion (Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait) and it taught us how one loses their dignity with the loss of land. When man loses his land he becomes nothing. Now the land has been restored and it is our duty to protect it. We must begin to pave the way for the sake of our children and as part of the fundamentals [stipulated upon by] the constitution. Man has developed the way he dresses but he still can’t develop the constitution?”

He added that among the worst statements issued during the ongoing feverish election campaign was, “‘Everything but the constitution’, such empty statements. What is that supposed to mean, that we should not amend the constitution?”

Candidates and politicians in Kuwait refer to a constitution that preserves freedom, dignity and ideology but every politician takes an article or line of the constitution to exploit and to gain a certain amount of clout and then alleges that there is some kind of threat and that his proposal is the only way to avoid destruction.

When asked to comment upon this, the Kuwaiti politician said, “That is wrong. We have matured enough and the time has come for action. When they raise the alarm we want to see the threat. We refuse to live under this ‘signaling’ for 40 or 50 years, the matter is now over. The ideology that used to work in 1990s is no longer appropriate – so what would you say of the ideology that prevailed 50 years ago?”

The Kuwaitis proudly refer to their fathers and grandfathers whose primary objective was to invest in the human aspect; however what they see today is an investment that is out of place.

There is a greater awareness of the concept that the state must be wholly socialist; it is good for the state to be responsible for health care and educational and residential care; however to care for man from the moment he is born until he dies is incredibly costly and moreover makes him lose his sense of initiative, responsibility and creativity.

Assigning the state all responsibilities is one of the points of contention between the government and the National Assembly. Many MPs reject openness because they want to protect marginal positions. The Kuwaiti politician said, “The status of the legislative authority must not be reversed; instead of it being a monitoring body it has become the largest union to protect public sector employees.”

And this is what we are witnessing in Kuwait today; parliamentarians are obstructing any development projects under the pretext of protecting employees. And by that, the MPs take on a union-type role instead of fulfilling their legislative supervisory role – and that is the point where both parties collide.

* Kuwaiti National Assembly: the Consultative Council (Shura Council) is the upper house of the National Assembly and parliament is the lower house.