Kuwait approves decree curbing popular vote

Parliament backs royal decree amending rules that sparked protests in December

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

(Photo for illustrative purposes only)

Kuwait's parliament on Tuesday approved a royal decree amending voting rules that sparked mass protests and an opposition boycott of elections last month in the US-allied Gulf Arab country, the official news agency KUNA said.

The emergency decree issued by Kuwait's emir in October - a week after he dissolved parliament - reduced the number of votes per citizen to one from four.

While the government said these changes bring Kuwait into line with democratic norms elsewhere, the opposition, which includes Islamist, liberal and leftist politicians, said their aim was to skew polls in favour of pro-government candidates.

Parliament's decision to ratify the decree may help deflect any legal challenge to the election and lends the measure political and legal weight ahead of hearings before Kuwait's constitutional court in the coming months.

"The approval was expected since this parliament was elected on the back of this decree," said Ghanim al-Najjar, professor of political science at Kuwait University. "What we really need to watch is what will happen at the constitutional court."

The court will consider several legal complaints related to the elections, including whether there was a need for the emir to issue the decree changing the election law.

Under the former voting system, citizens could select four candidates using four votes of equal weight, which meant candidates could call on supporters to cast their additional ballots for allies in the 50-seat legislature.

The opposition held a majority in the last assembly elected in February and raised pressure on the cabinet, forcing two ministers to quit the body, which is dominated by the Al Sabah royal family that has ruled Kuwait for 250 years.

Kuwait has the most open political system among the Gulf Arab states. Parliament has legislative powers and the right to question ministers. But the emir, head of the Al-Sabah family, appoints the prime minister, who chooses the cabinet.

The government says opposition lawmakers have used parliament to settle scores rather than pass laws to develop the economy. Opposition politicians accuse the government of mismanagement and have called for an elected cabinet.

Parliament also approved a decree issued by the emir that bans the incitement of sectarian or tribal hatred in Kuwait, imposing lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines.

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