Legal committee nods to change voting system to two votes

KUWAIT: The National Assembly's legal and legislative committee yesterday approved proposals to raise medical charges on expatriates and to amend the conditions of the existing health insurance on foreigners.

The decision will now go to the assembly's health and labor committee to work out the details of the proposals in cooperation with the Health Ministry which has already announced plans to increase medical charges on expatriates from the middle of next month. The legal committee's decision found the proposals in line with the constitution and the law.

One of the proposals call to impose mandatory health insurance on expatriates coming to Kuwait on visit visas after it was noticed that many expatriates, especially the elderly, visit Kuwait only to enjoy the almost free medical services.

Health Ministry officials said last week that the ministry plans to raise the prices of most radiology and technical medical services on expatriates from mid-February. No details were provided for the services that will be impacted.

The ministry did not explain reports about plans to raise the current KD 50 annual health insurance fee paid by expatriates on renewing their residence permit to as much as KD 130. The ministry also said it was planning to establish three hospitals for the treatment of the 3.1 million foreigners.

In a related matter, Minister of Social Affairs and Labour Hind Al-Sabeeh said yesterday that the balancing of the demographic structure, which is tilted in favor of expatriates, will not be completed immediately but will require years.

She said that a special committee is studying this issue and will take into consideration the requirements of the labor market. A number of MPs have called for reducing the number of expatriates who now constitute 70 percent of Kuwait's 4.4 million population. Kuwaitis are only 1.33 million against 3.1 million expats. A number of MPs have already signed a demand to hold a special debate on the demographic structure and the debate is likely to be held next month.

In another decision, the legal committee approved a draft law that calls to change the controversial voting system while keeping the number of electoral districts. Head of the committee MP Mohammad Al-Dallal said the draft law was submitted by five lawmakers and the committee only cleared the bill from any constitutional hurdles.

It will now go to the interior and defense committee for final approval before going to the National Assembly for a vote.

The main amendment to the existing law is raising the number of candidates a Kuwaiti voter can pick up in parliamentary election from one currently to two candidates.

The voting system has remained a highly controversial issue since late 2012 when the government unilaterally changed the system reducing the number of votes a voter can cast from four to one. The decision was rejected by the opposition which boycotted two parliamentary polls before returning in November last year. Opposition MPs have said they will do whatever it takes to raise the number of votes.

By B Izzak