Last updated: 20 October, 2012

Kuwait plunges into political turmoil amid crackdown

The Kuwaiti cabinet on Saturday amended a controversial electoral law and set a December 1 date for snap polls, sparking angry opposition calls for demonstrations.

“The cabinet approved the amendment of article 2 of the electoral law to change the voting system… and approved a decree to invite voters to elect a new national assembly on December 1,” it said in a statement.

The snap polls are the second this year and the fifth since mid-2006 as parliament has repeatedly been dissolved because of political disputes.

“I call on every Kuwaiti to tear the December 1 paper from the calendar and throw it in the dustbin. It is a black day in Kuwait’s political history,” opposition leader and former MP Mussallam al-Barrak wrote on Twitter.

The opposition has called for a massive demonstration on Sunday in protest at the decision to change the electoral constituency law, charging it is a bid by the government to influence the results and elect a rubber-stamp assembly.

The electoral constituency law, issued in 2006 after opposition-led protests, divides the country into five electoral districts, each electing 10 MPs to the 50-member parliament.

Under that legislation, each eligible voter was allowed to elect a maximum of four candidates. The government’s amendment reduces this number to one, the cabinet statement said.

The two draft decrees will be effective when Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah issues them, probably in the next few days.

The cabinet acted on orders from the emir who on Friday said the voting system must be amended immediately to deal with shortcomings in the law and to safeguard national unity against sectarian, tribal and factional tensions.

The decision came despite a ruling by the emirate’s constitutional court last month that the legislation was in line with the constitution, turning down an appeal by the government.

Almost all opposition groups and around 50 former MPs have condemned the decision and decided to boycott the election.

But it was warmly welcomed by former pro-government MPs who said the decision will help stabilise the OPEC nation.

In a new statement after an emergency meeting, the opposition accused the “regime” of staging a new coup against the constitution and of working towards establishing “oppressive autocratic rule.”

Signed by several opposition groups, it accused the regime of creating crises, encouraging the theft of public funds, fuelling sectarian and tribal divisions and blocking development.

The opposition called on the Kuwaiti people to demonstrate against the decision which in effect “aims at turning Kuwait into a police state.”

The interior ministry said it will not allow any “sit-ins, gatherings, processions, rallies… in any place other than the square facing parliament.”

“Any act of violence, riots, instigation of violence… and undermining national security will be dealt with forcefully and firmly,” the ministry said.

Kuwaiti media reported that the ministry has placed security agencies and the police on alert amid warnings of violence. The authorities allow rallies but ban processions.

Chiefs of bedouin tribes including the head of the largest tribe Awazem, Falah bin Jame, said they will call on their tribes to join a boycott. Tribes make up more than half of Kuwait’s native population of 1.2 million.

Kuwait, which pumps around 3.0 million barrels of oil per day, has been rocked by almost non-stop political crises since 2006, with the cabinet resigning nine times and parliament being dissolved on six occasions.