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Looking at the political developments in Kuwait, an outsider could be forgiven if he thinks Kuwait is not in the Gulf. Such has been the vibrancy and virulence of the country’s democracy that people in our region are watching with dismay and envy as events unfold in the country. Kuwait has achieved what several mature democracies in the world have achieved, and many think it can serve as a model for the Arab world.
This is the broad picture if you look at the country from a purely democratic perspective. But from a different angle, the current developments in Kuwait are a cause for worry. The stand-off between the government and the opposition often acquires dangerous proportions, hampering governance and the progress of the country. Sometimes both sides function in adversarial rather than complementary roles, resulting in crises from which they have to struggle to come out.
Yesterday, the Emir H H Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah ordered partial amendments to the country’s electoral system saying that the system was deficient and needed to be changed to preserve national unity and strengthen the practice of democracy.
The announcement angered the opposition, who retaliated by saying any ‘meddling’ in the country’s constitution would not be tolerated and they would boycott the election. The National Front, an umbrella for opposition groups and individuals, called on Kuwaitis to boycott elections. The Emir had dissolved the parliament earlier this month.
The Emir’s decision to amend the laws comes days after a demonstration by some 5,000 people near the parliament, where an opposition leader made a fiery and provocative speech against the Emir.
The electoral law issued in 2006 divides the country into five electoral constituencies, each electing 10 MPs to the 50-member parliament. Every voter is allowed to elect a maximum of four candidates and the amendment which the government is planning will reduce this number to either one or two. Opposition leaders say the new rule will lead to vote-buying and the election of corrupt leaders to parliament.
Kuwait has been going through severe crisis since June 20 when the top court annulled an opposition-dominated parliament and reinstalled the pro-government house elected in 2009 after it was dissolved in December amid corruption charges.
The latest development is likely to lead to a confrontation between the government and the opposition. If stability and peace are fruits of democracy, what is happening in the country is inimical to democracy.
Since mid-2006, the government resigned nine times and parliament was dissolved on six occasions, five of them by the emir and one by the courts. With such a track record, Kuwait needs drastic reforms to make its democracy governance-friendly.