KUWAIT CITY: Tens of thousands of supporters of the Kuwaiti opposition marched in the capital on the eve of election to urge voters to boycott the polls in protest against a change to the electoral law.
Chanting slogans “we are boycotting” and “the people want the repeal of the amendment”, the demonstrators marched peacefully after authorities issued a permit unlike the previous protests which turned violent.
Large numbers of women, many of whom veiled, and children carrying Kuwaiti flags and orange colour banners, took part in the protest described by onlookers as one of the biggest in this state.
“Absolute power corrupts” read a banner in English as the enthusiastic crowds continued singing national songs and chanting slogans calling for boycotting the polls until they reached the finish line at the landmark Kuwait Towers on the seaside Arabian Gulf Road.
“I am here to protest against the law amendment because it is a breach of the constitution. It will elect a pro-government parliament,” Abdullah Al Shemmari, a public sector engineer, said. Police was present in large numbers but this time to organise the protest and regulate traffic around the march path.
Several leading opposition figures and former MPs like ex-speaker Ahmad Al Saadun, Mussallam Al Barrak, Faisal Al Muslim and others led the protest.
“Today, the Kuwaiti people are sending a message peacefully that we are against the law amendment and against the oppressive attitude of the government,” member of the scrapped 2012 parliament Adel Al Damkhi said. “The regime should read the message seriously that there is a real rejection of the law,” Damkhi said.
The Islamist, nationalist and liberal opposition says the poll boycott is in protest at the government’s unilateral amendment of the electoral law, which it describes as a violation of the constitution.
The opposition claims the amendment allows the government to influence the outcome of the results and elect a rubber stamp parliament.
Under the previous law, Kuwaitis were able to vote for four of 10 MPs elected in each of the five constituencies, but that has now been reduced to only one.
The opposition claims that the reduction will encourage vote-buying and other corrupt practices since the number of votes needed to win a seat will be much lower than in previous polls.
The Emir H H Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah had said the amendment was within his constitutional rights and necessary to safeguard national unity and security of the state.
Demonstrations held since October 21 have drawn tens of thousands of people, often turning violent when riot police used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse protesters. Around 150 people and 24 policemen have been wounded in the protests. All opposition groups and figures have refused to register candidates for the polls. The election is the second this year and the fifth since mid-2006.