Kuwaiti citizens have begun to vote in their seventh legislative election in just over a decade, as a result of ongoing political crises that have hampered parliamentary proceedings and hindered reform initiatives.

Polling commenced at 8am (05:00 GMT) on Tuesday and will carry on until 8pm (17:00 GMT). The official Kuwait News Agency confirmed that the results are set to be announced on Wednesday. Over 793,000 eligible voters are anticipated to contribute to the shaping of the 50-seat legislature. Notably, Kuwait is the only Gulf Arab state to have an elected parliament with the power to hold the government accountable.

A total of 207 candidates are vying for a four-year term as lawmakers, marking the smallest number in a general election since 1996. The roster includes members of the opposition and 13 women.

Kuwait’s emir, Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, called the election last month after yet another dissolution of parliament amid a persisting political deadlock.

Frequent conflicts between different branches of the government have obstructed lawmakers from passing crucial economic reforms. Recurrent budget deficits, low foreign investment, and disputes over a contentious bill regarding government takeover of Kuwaiti citizens’ consumer and personal loans have further fuelled a sense of despondency.

The consistent discord between elected lawmakers and an appointed cabinet has led to a deterioration of social services, including healthcare and education. This lack of stability has also deterred investors from Kuwait’s petroleum industry, which holds seven percent of the world’s crude reserves.

In spite of widespread disillusionment with the political elite, human rights activist Hadeel Buqrais highlighted the importance of participating in the election. Although Kuwait’s cabinet members are appointed by the ruling Al-Sabah family, which maintains a firm control over political affairs, lawmakers are elected by the people.

In an interesting turn of events, the constitutional court in March nullified the results of last year’s elections, where the opposition had made considerable strides. The court ruled that the previous parliament elected in 2020 should be reinstated instead.

Since the implementation of a parliamentary system in Kuwait in 1962, the legislature has been dissolved approximately a dozen times.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Jaber Abdulkhaleg

In a significant development towards mending a seven-year-old diplomatic rift, Iran has announced its decision to reopen its embassy in Saudi Arabia this week.

In a brief statement issued on Monday, Nasser Kanani, the spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry, confirmed that Iran’s embassy in Riyadh would reopen on Tuesday, followed by the reopening of its consulate in Jeddah and its representative office with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation a day later.

According to Kanani, the embassy and consulate have already begun operations to facilitate Hajj pilgrimages. The official reopening will take place in the presence of foreign ministry officials from both nations.

This move follows a China-brokered agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, signed in Beijing on March 10th, which stipulated a two-month deadline for the embassies’ reopening.

Although Iranian authorities noted that the embassies had started conducting some practical work, they required additional time for an official reopening, given that the buildings had remained closed for years.

As of yet, there’s no official confirmation regarding when the Saudi embassy in Tehran or the kingdom’s consulate in Mashhad will officially reopen or who will be appointed as its ambassador.

Iranian state-linked media reported last month that Tehran had chosen Alireza Enayati, a former envoy to Kuwait and a foreign ministry deputy for regional affairs, as its envoy to Riyadh.

In 2016, Riyadh severed diplomatic ties with Tehran after its representative offices were stormed during protests against the execution of a Shia religious leader by the Sunni-majority kingdom.

Recent months have seen these two regional powerhouses steadily easing tensions, a step they claim will help enhance security across the region.

Post the agreement in March, other countries in the region have also begun following Saudi Arabia’s lead towards normalising relations with Syria and its president, Bashar al-Assad. This follows his ostracisation post his brutal repression of protests in 2011, which sparked a decade-long civil war. Saudi Arabia has also been increasingly engaging with the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen, where Riyadh and Tehran have supported opposing sides in the country’s civil war since 2015.

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Lebanon’s political landscape, characterised by an array of political parties and alliances, can often appear as a labyrinth to the uninitiated observer. This complexity is not merely a matter of diversity but an embodiment of Lebanon’s rich and multifaceted cultural, religious, and historical layers.

Future Movement

In the turbulent world of Lebanese politics, the Future Movement, led by Saad al-Hariri, a prominent Sunni figure and incumbent Prime Minister since 2016, carves out a distinctive place. Al-Hariri found himself thrust into the political arena following the assassination of his father, Rafik al-Hariri, in 2005. Following the Beirut port explosion in August 2020, Hariri was tasked with forming a government in October, but unable to form a government, he resigned as prime minister-delegate in July 2021 marking the suspension of his political career in January 2022.

Hezbollah

As a key player in Lebanon’s political field, Hezbollah, a creation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1982, boasts significant influence. Its power has only magnified since 2012, owing to its active involvement in the Syrian war, where it fights in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

Free Patriotic Movement

The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) offers another intriguing dimension to the Lebanese political scene. Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian politician and former army commander, founded the FPM. Interestingly, Aoun was also at the helm of one of two contending governments during the 1975-90 civil war climax.

In a testament to Lebanon’s convoluted political dynamics, Aoun became president in 2016, while Hariri assumed the prime ministerial role. Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, currently leads the FPM, which also happens to be an ally of Hezbollah. Aoun was elected president in 2016 until October 2022 as Parliament failed to agree on his successor leaving Lebanon with a highly polarised political environment.

Shiite Amal Movement

The Shiite Amal Movement, previously a civil war rival of Hezbollah, is the largest Shia party in Parliament currently boasting 14 representatives compared to Hezbollah’s 13. Led by Nabih Berri, Speaker of the Parliament since 1992, the Amal Movement also has close ties to Assad.

Progressive Socialist Party

The Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), under the leadership of Walid Jumblatt, represents the Lebanese Druze minority. Inheriting his position from his assassinated father, Kamal, Jumblatt was a prominent figure during the civil war. Currently, he is gradually transferring his authority to his son, Taymour.

Lebanese Forces

The Lebanese Forces (LF), led by Maronite Christian politician Samir Geagea, evolved from a powerful civil war militia. Geagea, the only Lebanese militia leader to have served prison time for civil war atrocities, remains a formidable Christian adversary of Hezbollah.

Kataeb Party

The Kataeb Party, or Phalange Party, helmed by Maronite Christian politician Sami Gemayel, adds another layer to the intricate web of Lebanese politics. Sami Gemayel assumed leadership following the assassination of his brother, Pierre, in 2006, during a spate of murders targeting opponents of Syrian influence in Lebanon.

Marada party

Lastly, the Marada party, under Maronite Christian politician Suleiman Franjieh, a staunch ally of Hezbollah and a friend of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, completes the diverse Lebanese political spectrum.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

Turkey’s newly appointed Finance Minister, Mehmet Şimşek, announced that significant shifts in economic policy are urgently needed to control the country’s spiralling inflation. In his first press conference following his appointment, Şimşek warned on Sunday that Turkey must “return to rational ground” regarding its economic strategies.

“Price stability will be our main target,” stated Şimşek. He underscored the urgency of reining in inflation to single digits over the medium term, describing it as “of vital importance for our country”.

Over the past two years, Turkey has been grappling with soaring consumer prices. In October, inflation hit an official 24-year peak of 85.5 percent. However, independent analysts maintain that the actual figures exceed these official statistics significantly. The escalating cost of basic commodities became a hot-button issue in the recent presidential run-off election.

Following his unprecedented third-term victory, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan designated Şimşek as Treasury and Finance Minister as part of a comprehensive cabinet reshuffle. The appointment of Şimşek, a former economist at Merrill Lynch who played a key role in Turkey’s recovery from the 2008 global financial crisis, signals a potential shift towards more traditional economic policies.

Erdoğan has been staunchly resistant to increasing interest rates to counteract inflation in the past, deeming such a measure un-Islamic.

“Şimşek will be treading a very fine line,” commented Aura Sabadus, a researcher at the Centre for European Policy Analysis.

“While Şimşek’s appointment is a positive development for the markets, it’s worth remembering that Erdoğan has previously dismissed two deputy central bank governors who opposed his unconventional economic views,” Sabadus added.

However, this clash in economic perspectives could presage further complications, according to Karabekir Akkoyunlu, a lecturer at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

“Şimşek claims Turkey has no choice but to return to rational economic policies, which prompts the question – why were the previous policies irrational?” Akkoyunlu queried. Akkoyunlu suggested that Erdoğan’s previous policy of generous spending, including measures like providing households with free gas and augmenting public sector salaries, may be succeeded by efforts towards fiscal balancing. “With the election concluded, the ‘campaign economy’ is now a thing of the past. It’s likely Şimşek will pivot towards austerity measures,” he added.

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On Sunday, Lebanon’s parliamentary opposition officially endorsed former finance minister, Jihad Azour, as their candidate for the nation’s presidency. This announcement came hot on the heels of Michel Moawad’s withdrawal from the race, significantly reshaping the presidential contest.

Legislator Mark Daou announced Mr Azour’s candidacy on behalf of 32 opposition-aligned MPs, following weeks of negotiations to find an alternative candidate to Suleiman Frangieh, who enjoys the backing of the pro-Hezbollah bloc.

Describing Mr Azour, Mr Daou stated, “He is the candidate capable of protecting Lebanon from collapse and domination”. Azour’s nomination arrives subsequent to his endorsement by the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) on Saturday.

The FPM, which currently maintains a strained alliance with Iran-backed Hezbollah, has seen its relations cool in recent months due to Hezbollah’s unyielding support of Mr Frangieh’s presidential bid.

Upon the announcement of Mr Azour’s nomination, the opposition bloc immediately called for an electoral session in parliament.

Notably, the previously favoured candidate for the parliamentary opposition, Mr Moawad, endorsed Mr Azour after withdrawing from the race, stating the issue has “always been the project, not the person”.

Mr Moawad’s withdrawal came on the back of several weeks of talks between the opposition, spearheaded by the Lebanese Forces, aimed at finding a robust alternative to Mr Frangieh. It had become clear that Mr Moawad struggled to secure sufficient votes for the presidency, with blank ballots frequently outnumbering the votes cast in his favour across eleven different electoral sessions.

The country has been embroiled in a presidential vacuum since the departure of former President Michel Aoun from office in October. Since then, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has convened 11 sessions to pick a successor, but MPs have so far failed to reach a consensus.

Who is Jihad Azour?

Jihad Azour, 57, comes with an impressive track record. He is a former finance minister and currently heads the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Widely seen as a technocrat, Azour could be a beacon of hope to usher in economic stability as Lebanon navigates the worst financial crisis in its history.

Having previously served as Lebanon’s Finance Minister from 2005 to 2008, Azour coordinated key reforms, including modernising the country’s tax and customs systems. In addition to his public service, Azour’s private sector experience is noteworthy. He has held senior positions at McKinsey and Booz & Co., as a Vice-President and Senior Executive Advisor, and was a Managing Partner at investment firm Inventis Partners.

Educated at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, Mr Azour holds a PhD in International Finance and a post-graduate degree in International Economics and Finance. His research at Harvard on emerging economies and their integration into the global economy and a wide range of publications and teachings on economic and financial issues, underscore his credentials as a leading expert in the field.