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Youth lay out demands from future parliament
Opinionated and hopeful, young Kuwaitis are ready to vote

By Passant Hisham and Nebal Snan

KUWAIT: With each new parliament in Kuwait arises a collective hope for progress, especially among the youth, who yearn for a better tomorrow. Ignoring their concerns overlooks a vital segment of society, which holds the potential to bring the nation forward. When asked about the primary issues they aim for the new parliament to address, young Kuwaitis emphasized challenges such as education, poor road infrastructure and women’s rights.

Among the diverse opinions expressed by these young individuals, education stood out as a primary concern for them, as emphasized by Hammad Al-Doussari, who said: “As students progress from elementary school through high school and college, they often pass without truly acquiring any knowledge.” He stressed the urgent need for a complete transformation of the entire educational system. Particularly, he called for stricter oversight on academic staff members in universities, preventing them from treating students in an unfair manner, including unjust grading practices and biases based on personal issues.

More accountability

Addressing such critical issues requires the involvement of parliament members who demonstrate a strong sense of responsibility and commitment to creating meaningful change, Abdelrahman Al-Thafiri noted. However, he believes that this change should extend beyond that and include improvement of Kuwait’s poor road infrastructure.

“Why isn’t anyone held responsible for compensating me in case of any damage to my car caused by the deteriorated roads?” he questioned, asserting that MPs must exercise their constitutional authority by holding ministers accountable for their ineffective systems. “I have the right to ride on well-maintained roads, especially considering we reside in one of the wealthiest countries in the world,” he added.

Likewise, Khaled Al-Abdulhadi called for constant monitoring of MPs to ensure greater transparency and credibility, especially among members who often make false promises, setting unrealistic expectations for the public. For him, the issue of quality of life is the most prevalent, as he advocated for improvements in current living standards. “It’s not just about salary increases or debt relief. What truly matters is access to quality services at reasonable prices,” he remarked. A call for more freedom of opinion and expression, especially through communication channels, was demanded by Sara, who chose to disclose only her first name. She also emphasized the necessity of amending audiovisual laws.

Women’s representation

Since the introduction of women’s suffrage in 2005, the number of female candidates vying for a seat in the National Assembly has not been significant, especially given that women make up more than 51 percent of Kuwait’s eligible voters. Looking at the past five parliamentary elections, women have not made up more than 8.5 percent of the total number of candidates.

At 5.2 percent, the percentage of female candidates vying for a seat in the 2024 National Assembly has reached its lowest since 2020. For some Kuwaiti youth, the underrepresentation has not gone unnoticed. “Women need to be represented by women who can voice their concerns,” said Sara. Eman Al-Shayaa said many female-centric issues that fly under the radar because they require women to advocate for them, such as the segregation between men and women in public places and the rights of children of Kuwaiti women. From Sara’s observations, society is “hesitant” to give women a chance due to systemic social inequalities and Kuwait’s highly debated one-vote system. A paper on women’s electoral participation in Kuwait published in 2021 by a researcher based at the London School of Economics and Political Science has revealed similar findings.

“The issue is entrenched into Kuwait’s political and social system. Women can’t enter diwaniyas like men do, for example. So they naturally have less traditional interaction with people when compared to men,” said Anwar Al-Rougui, a Kuwaiti journalist with extensive experience covering Kuwaiti parliamentary elections. Rougui is referring to the gathering spaces which are integral to Kuwaiti culture where men usually discuss political, economic and social issues. “If we assume the number of women MPs increases by three or even four seats, we can’t expect major changes because participation will likely be limited to certain social groups where interaction between men and women is more common.”

‘We don’t want them’

The performance of female MPs in the past two parliamentary sessions has been strong enough to encourage women who are considering wading into politics, whether they agree with the MPs’ political views or not. There’s also no denying that there have been few, but notable, successful candidates coming from conservative backgrounds. One of them is Moudhi Al-Mutairi, said Rougui, who got more votes from men than women, which is a positive sign that society might be coming around.

Youssef Abu Ghazaleh said encouraging women to run needs to start from an early age. “I don’t think women have had enough time to prove themselves,” he said. “Destigmatize genders interacting with each other in every facet of their life. You are encouraging people to fear the other gender.” Shayaa is for introducing a quota that would guarantee women a certain percentage of seats in parliament.

While the notion of a woman parliamentarian is beginning to become accepted in Kuwait, it is maybe less so in more conservative and tribal sections of society. “A woman’s political role is more effective as a voter, especially in our bedouin society,” said Seeta Al-Ajmi, a student. “Women can ensure their demands reach lawmakers by voting for the right person. As a society, it’s a bit difficult for a woman to get a seat in parliament. So it’s better if she saves herself the trouble instead of splitting the vote.” Thafiri said he’s against women’s participation in governance. “We don’t want them. This is coming from experience and not just empty talk,” he said, referring to infrastructure issues left unresolved by previous female officials.

Slashed in half

The drop in women representation may also be a reflection of another overall downward trend, says Rougui. Kuwaitis, both male and female, are increasingly choosing not to run for a National Assembly seat since 2016. At 454, 2016 saw the largest number of candidates in the past five elections, not counting those who were disqualified or who decided to drop out after registration.

In 2024, the number of candidates who initially registered to run for the election before disqualifications was nearly half of that eight years ago, at 252. Rougui says the drop in candidate numbers is likely nothing to worry about. “It’s a sign of political maturity whereby not anyone is running for the election,” said Rougui. With more than 70 candidates in this year’s election having been MPs in previous sessions, Rougui says newcomers may predict they have no chance of winning and choose to wait until the next vote. Rougui added that people might be discouraged by the political situation over the past few years, which has been more or less stagnant since the 2020 National Assembly election, when the opposition took nearly half of parliament’s seats.

Rougui expects no drastic changes in this year’s parliament given the profile of the candidates. But there will likely be stronger opposition to the majority, leading to more confrontation between lawmakers. He predicts the parliamentary term will likely be short and a new election will be called next year. The hope for a “stable parliament” is still alive for Sara. “The previous parliament was very short —seven or eight months. The situation we’re in is very difficult,” she said.

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