Kuwaiti political churn overshadowed by conflict nearby

Nov. 20, 2017
Kuwait, overshadowed by escalating conflict between larger neighbors, stays stable amid parliamentary churn.

Kuwait, overshadowed by escalating conflict between larger neighbors, stays stable amid parliamentary churn.

The tiny producer of 3 million b/d of oil now heads for another early election.

It held one in November 2016 after the emir, Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, dissolved parliament. It was the seventh snap election in a decade.

Al-Sabah was reacting to demands that members of parliament be allowed to question cabinet ministers on controversial proposals, including reduced consumption subsidies for oil.

Like all oil-dependent countries, Kuwait has budget problems from the collapse of crude prices in 2014.

In its new political crisis, the cabinet resigned in anticipation of a Nov. 1 vote of no confidence related to fiscal austerity.

Al-Sabah accepted the resignations and reappointed the prime minister, Jaber al-Hamad al-Sabah. But there are calls from within parliament, the National Assembly, for a new government.

Chances are high that al-Sabah will dissolve parliament and hold an election before the next scheduled voting in 2021.

Opposition politicians who boycotted two earlier elections participated in 2016 and now hold 24 of 50 National Assembly seats.

But their goals and approaches to reform vary among several factions. Meanwhile, royalty rules. Notwithstanding an active and democratically elected parliament, Kuwait remains a monarchy.

Its system tolerates protest but keeps it in the parliament and out of the streets. Change, including a long-planned increase in oil-production capacity to 4 million b/d, happens slowly.

Nearby, change rages, some dangerously.

As the emirate's cabinet recycled, Saudi Arabia was blaming Iran for a missile launched from Yemen but destroyed en route to Riyadh. Then the Lebanese prime minister, speaking in Saudi Arabia where he holds dual citizenship, resigned and complained about interference from Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

Antagonism toward Iran is a motivation for the blockade of Qatar implemented in June by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt.

In that dispute, Kuwait has tried to mediate a truce. Having learned at home how to dissipate political pressure, it seems well-suited for the job.

(From the subscription area of www.ogj.com, posted Nov. 10, 2017; author's e-mail: [email protected])