Five women among 61 candidates in Kuwait’s by-elections

Five women will be among the 61 candidates who will be vying for two seats in Kuwait’s parliamentary by-elections next month.

At the end of the ten-day registration period, 26 hopefuls, including one woman, signed up their names to replace former lawmaker Jamaan Al Harbesh in the Second Constituency and 35, including four women, to take over from former MP Waleed Al Tabtabaei in the Third Constituency.

The two ex-lawmakers were unseated after they were given jail sentences for their involvement in the storming of the parliament building in November 2011 during a rally calling for the resignation or removal of then Prime Minister Shaikh Nasser Al Mohammad.

Candidates for the by-elections pledged to make a difference in the lives of Kuwaitis, promising to amend laws for the benefit of the people.

One candidate, Saleh Ali Ghadhanfar, said he would focus on enhancing college curricula and keeping abreast of the latest international advances.Another hopeful, Saad Ebrahim Al Manaa, said he would support calls by young people to the government to cancel all debts, arguing that Kuwait was aiding several countries and should also help its own people who have debts.

Hilal Al Mutawa said that he would work on improving the capabilities of the e-government.

“Some ministries have been active in providing online services, but some public agencies and entities are lagging behind and are not therefore assisting people the way they should,” he said.

He also pledged to push for improving coordination between higher education and ministries to ensure that graduates find jobs more easily and reduce unemployment dramatically.

Ahmad Ebrahim Al Athari said that he would focus on the economic of Kuwait’s growth potential in order to turn the country into an economic and business hub.For Jassem Al Arifan, the focus will be on looking after the issues of retired Kuwaitis and on ways to benefit from their “rich experience.”

The by-elections will be held on March 16 with the results expected to be announced on the same day.

According to official figures, 62,457 voters are registered to cast their ballots in the Second Constituency and 96,528 in the Third Constituency.

Candidates who wish to withdraw from the race must inform in writing the authorities before the deadline of March 9, officials said.

Under Kuwaiti laws, candidates must be Kuwaitis and at least 30 years old. They must speak and write Arabic and must have an impeccable security record.The winners in the by-elections will serve until the end of the term of the current parliament elected in November 2016 for four years.

Despite impressive gains accomplished by Kuwaiti women in several areas, their presence in the 50-seat parliament is limited to MP Safa Al Hashem, the lone woman winner in the last elections.

The unseating of Al Tabtabaie and Al Harbash had gripped Kuwait for months and the country needed the Constitutional Court for the denouement of the case in a historic ruling.

The two MPs, currently out of Kuwait, were among a group of 67 defendants that included 10 former and sitting lawmakers who stormed the parliament building in November 2011.

The incident, unprecedented in Kuwait’s history, was labelled “Black Wednesday” and caused uproar in the country. The suspects insisted they acted “without malicious intention”.

The case remained pending until December 2013 when the Criminal Court acquitted all suspects.

However, the Court of Appeals in November 2017 rejected the ruling, and sentenced the defendants to jail terms ranging from one to nine years.

Al Tabtabai and Al Harbash were sentenced to three years and six months each. The verdict was confirmed by the Cassation Court, the highest court in the country, in May last year.

However, the parliament in October and under the umbrella of Article 16 of its bylaws and after a heated debate among its members voted to keep the membership of the two lawmakers.

The case was referred to the Constitutional Court which said that Article 16 was unconstitutional, annulling the parliament’s decision and ordering the two lawmakers to serve their prison terms.

The judges argued that Article 16 made court rulings “hostage” to the will of the parliament and amounted to blatant interference in legal instances and a violation of the principle of separation of powers.

The legislative branch cannot interfere in the work assigned by the Constitution to the judiciary or violate court rulings or undermine their right or independence, they said.

“Lawmakers are not above or beyond the law. Immunity is not a privilege, but is part of public interest. Lawmakers have no more rights than any other Kuwaiti to comply with the law. The law must take its natural course for all people without discrimination and the lawmakers’ immunity is not intended to confront decisions, nor is it a means of breaking the law with impunity,” they said.