The ruling emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Sabah, has done exactly what the opposition feared he would do, change the election laws. In response, opposition groups have said they would boycott the elections that have been called for December 1.
Conflict between the ruling emir and the elected parliament has been ongoing in Kuwait since 2011. The conflict is now coming to a head again as the ruling emir has changed the electoral law to try and prevent opposition groups from gaining a majority in parliament. Opposition groups have termed the emir's move a "coup against the constitution". The groups called for demonstration today (October 21) to protest the changes to the electoral law and against the upcoming elections.
The Kuwaiti government, controlled by the ruling Al-Sabah family, held a special meeting yesterday in Kuwait City at which it ordered the elections to be held on December 1 and also decided to amend the election law. The political turmoil in Kuwait has been blocking development plans.
Opposition leaders said that the government was driving the country towards "oppressive autocratic rule". The leaders called upon Kuwaitis to refrain from running or voting in the upcoming elections. For its part, the interior ministry said that no sit-ins, gatherings, processions, or rallies, would be allowed in any locations except the square facing parliament. This ensures that the government doe not need to herd protesters into one place in order to arrest them. The ministry also warned:"Any act of violence, riots, instigation of violence... and undermining national security will be dealt with forcefully and firmly."
The emir had dissolved parliament on October 7. This was the sixth dissolution since 2006.
Elections return the "wrong people" as far as the government is concerned. Sheikh Al-Sabah said in a televised speech that the electoral law changes were designed to stem recurring crisis. He also noted that Kuwait's constitutional court had issued a ruling allowing any necessaary changes to the electoral system.
The emir warned that political turmoil could result in "strife that could be about to erupt and destroy our unity, disfigure our identity and tear apart our society into fragmented groups". The emir said that he had requested the government to establish a national electoral committee to organise the election campaigns and "to guarantee the integrity of the electoral process." Just to make sure of the integrity of the process, authorities arrested two opposition politicians on Thursday and also questioned a third after they made comments regarded as criticising the emir. Such criticism is not allowed in Kuwait.
The Sabah family has ruled the area for literally hundreds of years. The present emir, 83 year old Sabah Al-Sabah, has ruled since 2006. The constitution describes him as "immune and inviolable". This does not leave much room for any type of criticism. Kuwait may not have faced much in the way of an Arab Spring but it may be facing a winter of discontent.