Trust is more important than just conducting elections in Kuwait.

By Samir Abu Rumman, PhD

The Kuwait elections are happening on June 6th, the nation’s third parliamentary elections in three years. Even if elections are held often or at regular intervals, that alone is not sufficient to judge their quality. Quality control also involves ensuring freedom and fairness in the electoral process. Therefore, paying attention to the integrity of elections is important in measuring the voters’ confidence in this process, which results in the choice most representative of the people.

In order to understand the opinions of Kuwaiti citizens and their trust in their elections, which provide a distinctive model in the Arab region, regardless of the challenges and the frequency of their occurrence and dissolution of their council, the Arab Barometer survey conducted by Princeton University asked a question about their beliefs in the freedom and integrity of the National Assembly elections in its third (2012-2014) and fifth (2018) waves. In the third wave, 86% of respondents expressed their confidence in the freedom and integrity in their elections, with 32% describing the elections as characterized by absolute freedom and integrity, and 42% considering them free and fair with some minor issues, while 11% indicated that they were free and fair with some significant problems. On the other hand, 6% believed that the elections, in general, were not free and fair.

In the fifth wave of the survey, which followed the National Assembly elections in 2016, the overall percentage of those convinced of the freedom and integrity of the elections decreased to only 54 percent. The opinions of the participants varied, with 26% considering the elections to be free and fair, 17% believing they were free and fair with some significant problems, and the percentage of those who considered the elections not free and fair increased to 12 percent.  There was also an increase in the percentage of participants who answered “I don’t know” to 44%, which is approximately six times higher compared to the third wave.

In the seventh wave of the survey in 2020, conducted by the Arab Barometer, this question was excluded for reasons beyond their control as a polling private entity. Considering the recent results of this question about the integrity of elections raises questions about the possible reasons, especially in light of the results of the 2016 National Assembly elections, which witnessed a significant change in the composition of the council and a significant return of the opposition after boycotting the elections in 2012 and 2013, in addition to increased representation of youth and women. Do these results reflect dissatisfaction with the election results or are they indicative of widespread fundamental violations? Therefore, trust in the integrity of elections has decreased, especially considering that the latest elections in 2022 witnessed the highest number of claims in the history of Kuwaiti elections, which may indicate an increasing skepticism towards elections and a decrease in trust.

In general, Kuwaiti citizens no longer seem to have the same level of trust in the electoral process as before. Therefore, it is better and beneficial to increase trust and political participation by not only opening the ballot boxes to receive the voters’ voices but also to supervisory authorities and media outlets, including international entities, in a manner that respects privacy. It is also important to facilitate and encourage regular surveys of voters’ opinions on the freedom and integrity of their elections in order to increase trust and the subsequent participation, which is expected to be lower than the usual level, ranging from two thirds to no more than half in the next upcoming elections in 2023, for various reasons, including lack of trust due to frequent rapid changes in the council!

Samir Abu-Rumman, PhD, based in Princeton University, USA, has more than 20 years of experience in research, education, and development in different countries. He is the supervisor of “World of Opinions” in Kuwait, Jordan, and the U.S., has lead and supervised different regional and global research projects for organizations such as the World Values Survey and Arab Barometer for Princeton University. He is the author of many books and articles, such as: 
 “Extremism and People…-  ISIS in the World Public Opinion” 
 “Interests and priorities ‎for Gulf Youth”
 “Islam and Muslims in the ‎World Public Opinion”
 “Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Opinion Polls”
 “The Political Dimensions of Interreligious ‎Dialogue”
 “Episodic Volunteering … A sample
 of volunteers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain”

He is a weekly writer for Alanba, a daily Kuwaiti newspaper, former visiting scholar at the University of Delaware Biden School of Public Policy & Administration, president of WAPOR WANA, and a visiting research scholar in the Princeton University Department of Politics beginning in August 2022. Dr. Abu-Rumman is a writer for the Indiana University indices (the Global Philanthropy Environment Index and the Global Philanthropy Tracker) and he has trained hundreds of participants on research, survey and nonprofits.

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