It’s not just been election time in the USA. Kuwait – where I used to live – has called yet another election. Which prompted a few thoughts about the whole democratic process. A friend was kind enough to provide a few numbers.
“Of the 3.8 million population, only 1.2 million are Kuwaiti. Among the Kuwaiti nationals, only 422,000 are eligible to vote. That’s 35%. The voting age is 21 and servicemen in the police and army are banned from taking part in the ballot. How very instructive. Why should democratic rights be taken away from the very people who are supposed to protect the Constitution. Female voters make up 54 per cent of the electorate, having been given the vote in 2005. I wonder how free they are to actually cast an unbiased vote or do they look to their husbands for political guidance? How very cynical of me. Polling opens at 8:00am (0500 GMT) and closes 12 hours later, with the first results expected after midnight (2100 GMT) as ballot papers in Kuwait are still counted manually.” Are they, indeed.
People have been out on the streets in protest. Sometimes, it’s not clear exactly what the protests are about – but electoral reform is high on the agenda. Kuwait’s Constitutional Court recently rejected the government’s move to amend a controversial electoral law. The much-anticipated ruling maintains the division of the country into five electoral constituencies which some see as a cynical move to hold on to power and prevent co-ordinated opposition. From an outsider’s viewpoint it looks very much like a clash between the Old and Young Guard. The Old are the ruling family who pays lip service to democracy without much enthusiasm for change – the New have travelled, seen how other people are engaging in the democratic process and want a piece of it, perhaps even to the extent of a genuine constitutional monarchy. It’s no surprise that the lawmakers, with fine disregard, forbade gatherings of more than twenty people not so very long ago, but since most protesters had Twitter accounts, it didn’t matter very much.
Neither are people prepared to put up with their politicians becoming embroiled in one financial scandal after another – less than a year ago thirteen MP’s were summoned by the public prosecutor to account for vast sums of money being transferred into their accounts with no apparent justification. This endless bickering and continuous conflict has taken its toll on the psyche of Kuwaitis and some have begun to question the feasibility of their pioneering model – at least in Gulf terms – of representative politics. This in turn has dissuaded GCC intellectuals and people who looked at Kuwait as a beacon for democracy in the region and discouraged investors who have stayed away from the hostile environment of Kuwait and its Byzantine, ragged and untamed politics.
But, back to the 35 per cent. Why so alarmingly few and what constitutional wrinkle disbars the remainder, I found myself asking. After the US elections, I picked up a piece from Richard Dawkins, the most famous atheist on the planet, it would seem, who has his own flavour of Blackshirt commentary. He presses for voters to question possible candidates on their religious beliefs, suggesting that any prospective MP who actually believes in literal transubstantiation, for example, or any other belief which in his eyes defies logical scrutiny (like Joseph Smith’s angelic visitors, or, worst of all a man who actually rose from the dead) has disqualified himself from public office on the grounds that if he applies the same fatuous logic to his work in Government, there’d be a tax on the fairies at the bottom of the garden. I’m always amused whenever I read about a big atheist gathering since it’s democracy which allows them to meet freely in the first place, this democracy having been founded on a moral and religious foundation on which it relies for successful operation.