Kuwait’s top court ordered the dissolution of parliament and the holding of elections under an amended voting law decreed by the emirate’s ruler and rejected by the opposition.
Constitutional Court head judge Yusuf Al Mutawa’a issued today’s ruling in response to challenges to last year’s election decree by Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah and some electoral procedures. The emir said in October that he had asked the government to change the electoral system, restricting voters to choosing one candidate instead of four, to “bolster the democratic process” and safeguard unity.
The amendment sparked Kuwait’s most violent street protests and led the opposition to boycott National Assembly elections held in December, the second vote in less than a year. The opposition said the changes to the voting rules were gerrymandering aimed at reducing their chances of winning and had made it easier for candidates to buy votes.
“What was issued today is the worst decision,” former lawmaker Waleed Al-Tabtabai wrote on Twitter. “We don’t care about dissolving this parliament as much as we care about canceling the single-vote decree and going back to the four-vote system, which was established by the people’s will.”
Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed, said he accepts the ruling and called on citizens to respect it.
“What the country has witnessed was a bitter experience but not a battle with a winner or loser,” the emir said during an address to the nation aired on state television. He asked the Cabinet to implement the decision.
Earlier, Information Minister Sheikh Salman Al-Sabah said the court decision “enhances the durability of the democratic system that is enjoyed by Kuwait,” according to a post on his ministry’s Twitter account.
Opposition members have been calling for political reforms, including more power-sharing by Kuwait’s hereditary rulers. Political clashes between former parliaments and governments, chosen by the ruling Al-Sabah family, have slowed Kuwait’s $110 billion development plan to diversify the oil-reliant economy.
In the December elections, which took place under the amended rules, Shiite Muslims won a record number of seats. The opposition that boycotted the vote is led by former lawmakers and comprised Sunni Islamists, liberals and youth groups inspired by the uprisings of the region’s so-called Arab Spring.
Today was the second time in a year that the court ordered parliament dissolved. On June 20, the court voided election results that had seated an opposition-dominated parliament four months earlier and reinstated the previous assembly of lawmakers.
“We see this decision by the Constitutional Court as being one of the most positive of the possible outcomes, from an economic standpoint,” Monica Malik, Dubai-based chief economist at investment bank EFG-Hermes, said today in an e-mailed note. “The opposition-dominated parliament’s confrontational stance towards the government has been a central factor behind the poor implementation of the investment program and Kuwait’s weak economic performance overall.”
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