No escaping democracy, says Kuwaiti politician

DUBAI - The region will follow the rest of the world along the path of democracy, according to a Kuwaiti political leader. "Whether willing or not, we are on the path to democracy and respect of human rights," Dr Ahmad Al Khatib said.

By Hani M. Bathish

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Published: Fri 23 Jan 2004, 12:08 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 2:28 AM

Dr Al Khatib, a pioneering nationalist politician and a supporter of the embryonic democratic experience in Kuwait, was in Dubai on Wednesday to deliver a lecture at the Sultan bin Ali Al Owais Cultural Foundation on the future of democracy in his country and the larger Arab world. He said the people in each Arab country must first know what they want and unite behind a common goal to achieve it.

"The (democratic) constitution of 1962 came about as a result of three factors at a historic juncture. First, 40 years of nationalist struggle, starting from 1922 till 1962. There were great sacrifices made in that period, people gave their lives to this struggle.

"The second factor is external, the 1950s saw the rise of Pan Arab nationalism and the Nasserite movement, which were very strong in Kuwait for specific reasons, especially after the union between Egypt and Syria and the changes in Iraq at the time. These changes caused great worry for the English; Kuwait then supplied two thirds of the UK's oil supply and all Kuwaiti funds were in UK banks, there was fear that the political movements were a threat," Dr Al Khatib said.

He stressed that the Amir of Kuwait at the time, Abdullah Salem Al Sabah, saw it wise to adapt to change and ensure the continuity of his rule, thus the situation was ripe for the '62' constitution.

"Through meddling and tampering we have lost this constitution ... we must find out what we need to do to reinstitute democracy. We continue to claim that Kuwait is democratic but the world tells us we are not ... How can we be democratic when just 18 per cent of our population can vote. Neither women, nor serving soldiers, nor those under 21 years of age can vote," Dr Al Khatib said.

He said that the creation of the 1962 constitution was a cause of concern for the Al Sabah family, and after Kuwait joined the Arab League and the United Nations, Sabah family members began to pressure the Amir to abolish the constitution. The Amir was adamant that the constitution would stay and any one who did not approve it could resign from the cabinet. Two Sabah family members, who were cabinet ministers at the time, actually did. After Abdullah Salem Al Sabah passed on, concerted attacks against the constitution and the democratic parliament began.

"The 1965 elections were falsified, armed policemen went to polling stations and took away the ballot boxes, replacing them with "prepared" boxes. Unfortunately no one had informed the Ministry of Information what was being planned and the entire episode was reported on the television," Dr Al Khatib said.

He said that the national parliament, in spite of the many attempts to limit its role, survived and proved many, who thought it a mere rubber stamp parliament, wrong.

In 1975 an attempt to remove certain powers from parliament and add powers to the cabinet also did not succeed. Even the appointment of 44 MPs in the 1981 parliament to approve all government decisions failed. The next strategy was to create 25 electoral districts in Kuwait, making it easy to tamper with the process, which Dr Al Khatib said was a tragedy.

Although initially rejected by the Cabinet, the new 25 electoral districts were finally approved. "A reform of the electoral districts, turning them into five instead of 25, is a very reasonable suggestion," Dr Al Khatib said.

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