About National Assembly

The Constitution of 1962: A Milestone in Kuwait’s History of Public Participation

Kuwait takes pride in participatory model of governance. Throughout its history, Kuwait’s subsequent rulers or (Sheikhs) actively engaged citizens in public affairs.  As such, consultation and public consent are key pillars of Kuwait’s political history.  This explains why elections and the formation of a nd representative bodies in Kuwait date back to 1921, when the first legislative council of Kuwait was formed, and again in 1938, when the second legislative council was established.  However, it was not until 1962, a year after Kuwait gained its independence from the United Kingdom, that the current parliament, known as the National Assembly was formed.

That year, the-then Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Abdulla al-Salim al-Sabah (1950-1965), institutionalized Kuwait’s long history of consultation and public participation through the formation of a founding assembly (al-majlis al-ta’sisi), which was tasked with codifying the Nation’s Constitution.  The draft was presented to Sheikh Abdulla al-Salim on November 11, 1962, who signed and ratified it on the same day without any amendments.  The first election for the newly formed National Assembly were held in 1963.  The 1962 Constitution remains in effect to this day.

The National Assembly: Composition and Role

Kuwaiti citizens elect fifty (50) Members of Parliament from five (5) electoral districts to the unicameral legislature. The top ten winners from each district are allocated a parliamentary seat. MPs serve for four year-terms, unless the Amir calls for early elections. There is no limit on the amount of terms an MP may serve. Suffrage is extended to all Kuwaitis at the age of 21, except those citizens who have been naturalized for less than 30 years and active members of the armed forces.

Members of the Cabinet are ex-officio members of the National Assembly. The 1962 Constitution limits the size of the cabinet to one-third that of the elected MPs and therefore the highest possible number of ministers is 16, including the Prime Minister. The 1962 Constitution requires that at least one member of cabinet be an elected MP. Although cabinet members are actively engaged in National Assembly affairs, the constitution prohibits them from partaking in certain procedures, most notable of which are a vote of non-cooperation with the Cabinet, or a vote of no-confidence against a particular minister.

Executive-Legislative Relations

While there is considerable overlap between the executive and legislative branches of government, Article 50 of the Constitution regulates the relationship between these branches of government.  The article, titled “Separation and Constitutionality of Powers,” states “The system of government is based on the principle of separation of powers functioning in cooperation with each other in accordance to the provisions of the constitution.  None of these powers [branches] may relinquish all or part of its competence specified in the constitution.”

This article establishes a strong sense of collaboration between the executive and legislative branches of government, and is a basis for regulating disputed matters.  Consider the following examples to better illustrate cooperation between both branches of government:

  • Determining Legislative Priorities: Prior to every parliamentary session, both the Cabinet and National Assembly work together to identify the legislative priorities for that term. At first, the Cabinet, under the leadership of HH the Prime Minister, provides the National Assembly with a list of its legislative priorities. This list is then reviewed by the Executive Office of the National Assembly (which includes the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Rapportuer, and the chairs of the committee on legislative and legal affairs and the committee on economic and financial affairs) to amend or merge parts of the Cabinet’s priorities with that of the National Assembly. The result is the issuance of a plan for each parliamentary session, which is then approved by parliament in an open session as joint priorities. It is then that these issues are deliberated as bills and passed in the form of laws.
  • Cabinet Cooperation with Parliamentary Oversight: All ministers are responsible before HH the Amir and the National Assembly.  To help facilitate the role of parliamentary oversight, cabinet ministers are frequently invited to participate in parliamentary committee sessions.  They are often asked to provide progress reports on development projects, or to discuss amendments to proposed bills, and other administrative affairs.

MPs also have numerous tools to question cabinet decisions beyond committee hearings.  These tools range from posing a parliamentary question, forming a temporary investigation committee on a particular topic, and finally, interpellation.

The Cabinet, under the leadership of HH the Prime Minister, and with support from the Office of the Minister of State for National Assembly Affairs (MoNAA) continue to push for higher response rates from cabinet ministers to questions or suggestions posed by different MPs.  Over a six month period, for example (from May 2010-October 2010), the cabinet has:

  1. Increased its responses rate of parliamentary question from 60 to 89 percent, even though the number of parliamentary questions during were doubled during this period.
  2. Formed a legislative priorities committee, which includes representatives from every government institution to follow-up on the status of proposed bills and the implementation of enacted legislation.
  3. Launched a website that highlights the latest information on executive-legislative priority areas and joint achievements.