Why an elected Majlis in Qatar will not work 11, May 2014Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
Tags: Central Municipal Council, democracy, Democracy in Qatar, democracy in the gulf, Kuwait, Kuwaiti parliament, Qatar
The following Tweet simply and succinctly sums up for me why an elected Majlis in Qatar that actually has any power will not work.
It refers to a story in a local paper here in Doha quoting elected members of Qatar’s toothless ‘Central Municipal Council’ complaining and arguing against a recent hike in the price of diesel fuel. The core of the complaint is that the price hike will effectively be passed on to consumers in one way or another. While there may be some logic to this concern, I am struck by the similarity of this complaint to the exact genre of complaint that has so paralyzed Kuwait’s Parliament in recent decades.
Discussions about democracy in the Gulf unerringly come back to ‘the Kuwaiti example’. In short, though many in the Gulf may admire the relative freedom of action afforded to Kuwaitis and the power of its Parliament, potentially a real check on Emiri authority, few would actually want Kuwait’s system given its lamentable recent experience. As I wrote in 2011, 2012, and 2013 [and I suppose I’m now due to write the same article in 2014], there are fundamental problems at the heart of Kuwait’s democratic style of politics. In short, the issues are:
- A ban on political parties frequently forcing candidates to make their own platform, which are typically so-called ‘service’ platforms i.e. parliamentarians promising to deliver more subsidies and other goodies for their constituents;
- ‘Service’ platforms feed off historical differences in Kuwaiti society: in short, groups enfranchised in recent decades see this as an opportunity for them to get ‘their share’ of Kuwait’s wealth, which has been monopolized by other segments of society who have had far longer access to wealth and power;
- The Prime Minister is appointed and he appoints to the Cabinet. Without the formalized input of the elected Parliamentarians, there is often little ‘buy in’ to the Cabinet and an antagonistic tone is set;
- Before the Arab Spring, Kuwait’s politics was energized by growing youth movements, which were even more catalyzed by the Spring itself, which lent greater impetus to those seeking change and a greater access to wealth;
- The only method available to the Government to keep the show on the road in recent years has been the increasing dispensation of cash. For example, from 2005 to 2013 government wages have risen from $6.7 billion to $17 billion. Though Kuwait’s oil revenues increased during this time period, there have been repeated and increasingly concerned warnings emanating both from within and outwith Kuwait as to the dangers of such levels of spending. The IMF, for example, predict that if the current spending rates are maintained, Kuwait will have exhausted all its oil savings by 2017.
While only some of these factors may be at play in Qatar – there are, for example, no similarly large cleavages in Qatari society as there are in Kuwait – the fundamental issue is the same. Would-be MPs in Qatar, in the absence of political parties, would inevitably fall back on a ‘service’ platform, which as the Kuwait experience has shown all too clearly has a caustic influence on long-term decision making and planning.