x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Kuwait court rules 2012 elections unconstitutional

Court finds February 2 vote was unconstitutional because leader Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah drew up the decree for the elections after the Cabinet had resigned.

KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait's constitutional court further complicated the country's chaotic political situation yesterday, ruling the parliament was elected unconstitutionally and restoring the previous legislature.

The state news agency Kuna said the court threw out the February 2 vote because Kuwait's leader, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, drew up the decree for the elections after the Cabinet had resigned.

A caretaker Cabinet was appointed before the decree was issued, but the court ruled that was insufficient and voided the election.

Tensions have flared since the election gave the opposition control of the chamber. Islamists and their allies have pressured two ministers to resign and the opposition bloc has insisted it deserved more than half the seats in the 15-member Cabinet because of the election results.

The court's decision to cancel the vote sparked a furore on social networking sites, where supporters of the opposition legislators called for demonstrations in front of parliament.

The opposition politician Musallam Al Barrak told Kuna that it was a "blatant attack on the choice of the people".

Yesterday's decision marked the second removal of an elected Arab parliament by judicial authorities in less than a week. On June 14, Egypt's highest court declared part of the electoral law invalid. The Kuwaiti judgment came two days after Sheikh Sabah suspended the assembly for a month to cool escalating tensions between his government and Islamist-led opposition legislators seeking a greater voice in the Gulf nation's affairs

"This is in sync with what happened in Egypt," said Ayed Al Manna, a political analyst at Kuwait's Public Authority for Applied Education. "All indications show that we are on the threshold of a severe crisis."

Kuwait's 50-seat parliament, where the opposition held more than 30 mandates, was elected last February on a turnout of 59.5 per cent of the country's almost 400,000 voters.

The court reinstated the previous parliament, elected in 2009, seen as more liberal and supportive of the government. After the old parliament reconvenes, analysts in Kuwait expect that elections will be called within 60 days.

"This glitch has caused chaos and delay, but it's the ruling of the highest court and it can't be challenged," said Ghanim Al Najjar, a political-science professor at Kuwait University.

Mr Al Najjar said there are fears that the 2009 parliament would remain in office, but he said that was unlikely. "If they do that, it will be considered a challenge to the choice of the people, and the government cannot afford to do that," he said.

Kuwait's Cabinet met after the ruling and said it would continue evaluating the situation today.

Kuwait has the Gulf's most politically independent parliament. It often demands to question top officials and has the ability to pass no-confidence votes to remove Cabinet officials.

The battles between the government and parliament have taken a toll on the country, and Kuwait's rulers appear to have grown tired of the political stalemate. The skirmishes have diverted attention from economic development proposals and other issues, such as simmering labour unrest in Opec's fourth-largest oil exporter.

* With additional reporting by Bloomberg News