Chatham House: Kuwait’s Parliament, An Experiment in Semi-Democracy
Chatham House released a briefing paper by Jane Kinninmont entitled “Kuwait’s Parliament: An Experiment in Semi-Democracy” which discusses the role of the elected body within the confines of the Kuwaiti monarchical structure. The report covers the tenuous relationship between Kuwait’s elected ministers and the royally appointed cabinet. In addition, Kinninmont analyzes the powers of parliament, the perception of democracy as a hindrance to economic development, and suggests improvements to the parliamentary structure. She makes the point that, “It would be overstating the case to infer from specific criticisms of the recent Kuwaiti experience that democracy is not feasible in the Gulf, or that it necessarily hinders economic development. There is no conclusive evidence that democracy per se either encourages or holds back economic development, probably because both democracy and development are very broad concepts.”
While Kuwait’s government is certainly the closest example of a constitutional monarchy in the Gulf, much of the real power still lies with the emir. Ministers are currently afforded the power to openly criticize and oppose government policies, however MPs have little leverage with which to implement new policies in their place. Yet, Kuwait represents the leading model of democracy on the Arabian Peninsula and ranks highly on transparency and human development indices. Additionally, Kinninmont finds that the inability of ministers to implement long-term economic policies which address the national interest, rather than the short-term demands of individual constituents, has been detrimental to the sustainability of the economy.
Kinninmont stresses that the ability of parliamentarians to criticize the emir is a highly valuable tool, yet their lack of a constructive relationship with the government has been an issue. She argues that the virtual routine dissolution of parliament is highly detrimental to the prospect of democratic reform in Kuwait. ”At a minimum there needs to be greater clarity about the constitutional and legal conditions under which parliament can be dissolved; if it is to remain a royal prerogative, it could be thought of as a last resort instead of the first port of call when tensions arise,” she concludes.