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Media analysts laud positive electoral system

By Mustafa Qamhiya

KUWAIT: Local and international media outlets carried out extensive media coverage of Kuwait’s assembly elections, with radio, television and print outlets giving special focus on the leadership’s calls for correcting the political situation in the country.

Mustafa Qamhiya, Managing Editor, Kuwait Times spoke to few of the media analysts and independent researchers who shared their opinions on the assembly elections and the way forward.

Adel Darwish, writer and commentator with the Parliamentary Press Gallery in London said that, “We promote democratic values in Britain and work as independent parliament journalists and so I am here, to look for a parliamentarian’s view of democracy in Kuwait.”

Darwish pointed out that democracy was unique in the Arab world and as with other democracies across the world, is constantly evolving. “We have a constitutional advantage here and we have observed a certain transition happening in Kuwait. Also, we have seen how significant public opinion is in the country and this is also reflective in their choices – Kuwaitis are keen to know how much it pays to go to school or to fuel their car.”

He also outlined the structure of the Kuwaiti constitution as one which allotted roles for the parliament, the government and the state with each having their own individual role to play. “The role of the press is neither social nor economic, as these are privately owned institutions, but it is still a place to showcase the public opinion, which is why there needs to be a parliamentary press separate from the Ministry of Information.” Darwish argued that the parliamentary press which usually functions under a separate code of practice has its own elected community and Chairman or Secretary, adding that, “parliamentary journalists can keep an eye on members of the parliament and can even put them on trial in front of the public.”

Dr Said Shehata, Lecturer in Middle East politics and international relations, University of London, opined that, “Democracy in Kuwait goes back to the constitution which was put in place in 1962, out of a belief in the Kuwaiti leadership who have participated in policy making, even as early as the 1930s, in the form of local councils, formed to listen to public opinion.”

He said that Kuwait’s leadership and the statements that have been made by them signaled the unity in the country and also underlined the importance given for public opinion. “This can be seen everywhere, at the polling stations and voting centers, where men and women have enthusiastically come forward to vote.” Shehata said that the reason for a large turn out was because, “people were hopeful of a change.”

“The leadership decided that things needed to be changed and initiated a proper route to democracy, to elect responsible members to the Assembly and to ensure a free election.”

Meanwhile, Ahmad Yousuf from Anadolu Agency, who covers the Gulf region, said that he came from the agency to observe the voting procedures in Kuwait, “We went to two schools in the morning – one for men and the other for women. The turn-out was quite good with people present from various age groups and it was quite evident that the people of Kuwait were keen to work towards reformation and contribute to the development of their country.”

He observed that Kuwait is one of the leading democratic countries in the region and “it started on this path quite early and is known for its integrity.” Yousuf added that the role of the National Assembly was renowned for its effectiveness, as an institution that spoke on behalf of the public and this was reflective in the diverse movements and opposition parties in Kuwait.

Elie Abouaoun, Director, Middle East and North Africa Center at the United States Institute for Peace said that, “Democracy is a word with many meanings. But what I was able to see during the last two days and this morning is a consistent effort by Kuwaitis, whether authorities or political forces and organizations, to improve the practice of democracy in Kuwait. This time, this election is obviously a bit different, because of the road map that was set by the Amir and the Crown Prince. This roadmap included important electoral reforms which I hope will be put into practice by the end of this electoral process.”

Abouaoun pointed out that electoral reforms, if implemented properly should lead to reforms but added that these could only be seen after the outcome of the elections. He also said that on his visit to a polling station for women, he saw women from all age groups volunteering and working within the center and was pleased to see that it was managed very well, with no irregularities.

Speaking about the functioning of the polling stations, he said that the two centers were managed very well, with voters receiving proper assistance from those that were there to help them, adding that, “the head of the polling stations insisted on the privacy of the voters.”

He also argued that, “The Kuwaiti leadership has started a top-down process to achieve political change. But a top-down process is not sustainable unless there is a parallel bottom-up change as well, as change cannot be imposed – it needs to be complimented by the people.”

Leon Shahabian, Researcher with Global Insights Group, said that, “As an American Lebanese researcher who follow the GCC from Washington, this is a wonderful opportunity to see a second wave of development happening here in Kuwait.” He lauded the positive changes that were happening in the country, adding that the country was at the forefront of a significant change movement. “It just needs the right leadership and structure in the parliament and the government. The positive signs are already there, even before the electoral campaigns – this is a different election.”

Speaking on the historical relations shared between the US and the Kuwait, Shahabian said that he hoped to let young Americans know what the older generations have always felt about Kuwait and added that he looked forward to “this new chapter in bilateral relations.”

“I think the change will eventually happen because a lot of positive things are happening after the dissolution of the assembly. I think this is not only witnessed in the leadership but also among the youth as the younger generation is also observing what is happening in other GCC countries.”

Meanwhile, George Kallivayalil, Associate Editor and Chief of Bureau of south Indian newspaper, Deepika observed that “people in the country are optimistic about the election and its outcome,” adding that the voters were hopeful that the elections would bring more stability, development and prosperity to the country.

Kallivayalil, who has covered Kuwait elections as an observer twice, said that he had visited four polling booths on Thursday. “I could see voters were very excited to participate in the democratic process, particularly the youth and women, who turned out in large numbers. Even the elderly voters came enthusiastically to the polling stations to cast their votes. These are quite positive things for democracy in the country.”

The newspaper also acknowledges the special efforts taken by Fajer Al-Houti who works with the Media Center, Ministry of Information for arranging interviews for the story.

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