Kuwait, which has been ruled by the Al-Sabah family for two and a half centuries, will hold parliamentary elections on Saturday.
Here are some things to know about the oil-rich Gulf emirate and its delicate diplomatic balancing act:
– Black gold –
Kuwait is the fourth richest country in the world, earning around 90 per cent of its income from oil.
Despite vast fiscal reserves estimated by the International Monetary Fund at $644 billion (584 billion euros), it has run a deficit for the last six years after being hard hit by the fall in oil prices.
With Covid-19 lockdowns further cutting demand for oil, the economy is expected to shrink by 1.1 per cent this year.
– Immigrant workers –
About 70 per cent of the tiny country’s 4.8 million population are foreigners, mostly migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East, many of whom cannot change jobs or leave the country without their employer’s permission.
In June, Kuwait says it wants to reduce immigrant numbers by more than a half.
– Diplomatic bridge –
Majority-Sunni Kuwait maintains diplomatic relations with Shiite-dominated Iran as well as with its powerful Sunni neighbour and ally Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s sworn enemy.
It also enjoys good relations with Qatar and has mediated in the deep diplomatic crisis that erupted between Doha and its Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in 2017.
– Shackled parliament –
Kuwait was the first Gulf Arab state to adopt a parliamentary system in 1962, with the constitution providing for a 50-member National Assembly, elected for four years.
Political parties are neither banned nor recognised, but many groups — including Islamists — operate freely as de facto parties.
However, power is concentrated in the royal family, with the emir choosing the prime minister and 15 of the 16 cabinet posts.
From mid-2006 to 2013, and especially after the Arab Spring revolts of 2011, the country went through political turmoil, during which around 10 governments resigned.
The reign of the then-Sheikh Sabah, who died in September, is marked by protests and opponents being arrested. He is replaced by his half-brother, 83-year-old Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
– Women on the margins –
Although Kuwaiti women won the right to vote and to stand for election in 2005, traditional families impose tight restrictions on their female relatives’ movements.
This year Kuwait swore in eight female judges after a long battle to allow women to serve in the role.
Domestic violence, however, is still to be criminalised.
Vanguard News Nigeria