From boycotting ballots to storming parliament, each time Kuwait heads into parliamentary elections the backstory seems to overshadow the vote. Yet the revolving-door series of elections could have an impact not only on this tiny, oil-rich state, but also on fellow nations in the Gulf and the rest of the region. For the election Saturday to pick a new 50-seat parliament — the most empowered elected political body in the Gulf — there might be another boycott, but the real question is whether the vote will ease the internal pressures on Kuwait’s Western-backed ruling dynasty. The challenges come from an emboldened opposition that includes groups ideologically linked to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand, and on the other, liberals angered by crackdowns such as prison sentences over social media posts.
Gulf Arab partners are closely watching the moves by Kuwait’s Islamists, considered by the United Arab Emirates and others as part of wider networks seeking to bring down their pro-Western fraternity.
Washington is deeply vested in Kuwait’s stability as a critical link in the Pentagon’s military array against nearby Iran. Kuwait hosts thousands of U.S. soldiers in the largest deployment of American ground forces in the region.
The main test is whether the election outcome will restore credibility to a political system that appears stuck in a cycle of disputes.
“I think there is not much enthusiasm for the elections in general,” said Saad bin Tefla, a Kuwaiti professor and political analyst. “Counting the upcoming elections, the people of Kuwait will have gone to the polls three times (since February last year). It’s humiliating.”