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Fabricating a fig leaf of democracy in Kuwait

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Parliamentary elections in Kuwait were held on December 1, 2012 amid opposition calls to boycott the ballot that resulted in a low voter turnout and a pro-government National Assembly known as Majlis-e-Umma.

According to figures released by the Kuwaiti National Election Commission, "liberals,' "conservatives' and Shi'ites made gains in the newly elected parliament. Islamic revivalists were routed with only four seats in the 50-seat parliament. Only three women were elected.

In a significant development, Shi'ite candidates secured over a third of seats for the first time, taking seventeen seats in the National Assembly. About 30% population of Kuwait is Shiite and the election result reflected that the Shiite for the first time in Kuwait's parliamentary history got representation in the National Assembly in proportion to their population. However, Sunni majority accuses Shiite members of supporting the government.

The election was maneuvered to wipe out the fierce opposition by the so-called Sunni Islamic revivalists who got only four seats. In the outgoing assembly they had twenty-three MPs.

Not surprisingly, the opposition groups said their demand for a boycott of Kuwait's parliamentary election has been a success and called the new chamber unconstitutional. Officially the turnout was 43%, but opposition supporters claimed it was only 28%. Previous elections, including one held in February this year, saw a turnout of around 60%.

The Popular Committee for Boycotting the Election said the new body "does not represent the majority of Kuwaiti people and has lost popular and political legitimacy". It said any legislation would be illegal. Political parties are banned and candidates run as individuals.

The elections were held after the Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber, dissolved the opposition dominated assembly in October this year after the Constitutional Court annulled the February 2012 elections and reinstated the 2009 dissolved assembly. This was the second dissolution of parliament in less than one year. The Amir dissolved the 2009 house in November 2011 when the opposition tried to grill a ruling family member about the alleged payment of bribes to pro-government MPs.

The drama of dissolution and suspension of the National Assembly looks a permanent feature of Kuwait's so-called democratic process where the Amir is an absolute ruler with powers to dissolve the elected house. During this scribe's stay in Kuwait from 1968 to 2000, the National Assembly was suspended or dissolved at least four times.

Kuwait's first National Assembly was elected in 1963, with follow-on elections held in 1967, 1971, and 1975. From 1976 to 1981, the National Assembly was suspended. Following elections in 1981 and 1985, the National Assembly was again dissolved in 1986.   In 1999, the Amir once again dissolved the National Assembly. Again in May 2006   the Emir dissolved the National Assembly.

How the election results were mannered?

It was evident from the February 2012 results that the government will not be able to work with the opposition-dominated National Assembly. Hence the house was dissolved by the Constitutional Court on the pretext of violation in vote registration. The Court also re-instated the 2009 National Assembly that was dissolved in November 2011.

In October last the government changed the voting system that require voters to choose only one candidate, instead of four previously. 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.

The opposition staged one of the biggest rallies in Kuwait's history on Nov. 30, urging a boycott of the polls amid calls for the government, appointed by the ruling Al-Sabah family, to share more power with elected politicians.

Several opposition leaders were arrested over the past two months for criticizing the emir, who is considered "inviolable" by the constitution.

Opposition leaders arrested

Several opposition leaders were arrested over the past two months for criticizing the Amir, who is considered "inviolable" by the constitution. Musallam al-Barrak, the firebrand opposition leader, was imprisoned for 10 days after issuing an unprecedented public warning to the emir over his election decree -- and accusing Jordan's King Abdullah, of sending in mercenaries to crush protests. Writing in the Guardian, UK, Musallam Al Barrak, wrote on November 25:

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
 

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