What started as a dispute over voting rules in Kuwait has mushroomed into a debate about the balance of power between the emir and parliament, with implications for other Gulf dynasties facing reform pressure since the Arab Spring. Thousands of Kuwaitis have regularly taken to the streets since late October to protest at Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah’s decision to amend the electoral law before a parliamentary election on December 1. While public demonstrations about local issues are common in a state that allows the most dissent in the Gulf, Kuwait – a major oil producer and U.S. ally in a precarious region facing U.S. arch-foe Iran – has avoided Arab Spring-style mass unrest that toppled three veteran Arab dictators last year.
Kuwait’s cabinet has resigned after protesters and opposition deputies demanded that the prime minister step down over allegations of corruption, state-run television has reported. “The prime minister [Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad Al-Sabah] has submitted his resignation to the emir,” Kuwait TV said, without specifying whether it had been accepted. Earlier, opposition member Khaled al-Sultan said the cabinets’s resignation was accepted amid a bitter political dispute between the prime minister and opposition MPs. “We are waiting for the appointment of a new prime minister before parliament is dissolved in order to be assured of fair elections,” the Sultan told reporters outside parliament. Parliament speaker Jassem al-Khorafi said he had not been informed about a dissolution of parliament.
More than half of Kuwait’s members of parliament have resigned in protest at a court’s decision to annul an election that had given the Islamist-led opposition a majority. The resignations deepen the political crisis in the major oil exporter which has so far avoided the widespread dissent that has ousted heads of state in some other Arab countries. Wednesday’s ruling effectively dissolved the parliament elected in February and reinstated its predecessor, but the resignations by many lawmakers who were in the previous parliament deprives the 50-seat assembly of more than half its members, making it difficult to function. The number of resigning lawmakers had risen by Thursday to at least 26, parliamentary sources said. “It does us no honour to be part of the 2009 assembly which was brought down by the nation,” said Jamaan al-Harbish after Wednesday’s ruling, speaking on behalf of several lawmakers. “We thus tender our resignations,” he added.
Kuwaitis were casting ballots Thursday in a snap vote to elect the fourth parliament in less than six years, with unofficial polls showing the Islamist-led opposition in the lead. The vote in the wealthy Gulf state, which follows a campaign marred by violence, seeks to end political disputes that have hurt the country for years. Female voters, dressed in clothes ranging from black traditional abayas to casual Western-style jeans, lined up in short queues in voting stations set up for women, as lines of men formed at separate polling booths. Women voters make up 54 percent of the electorate and 23 women are among 286 candidates running for the 50-seat legislative body.
Kuwait’s ruler dissolved parliament on Tuesday and called for an election, state media said. The government was forced to resign last month in one of the deepest political crises in the oil-exporting state and the emir said this crisis was threatening the country’s interests.
Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah gave no date for the election but under the constitution it must be held within 60 days of parliament’s dissolution. The emir said in a decree read out on state television that the decision to dissolve parliament came after it became difficult to achieve progress. “This required going back to the nation to choose its representatives in order to overcome present difficulties,” the decree said.