Poll nod for three Government appeals ruling

KUWAIT CITY, Nov 28: The Administrative Court on Wednesday overturned the decision of the National Elections Commission (NEC) to cancel the candidacy of former MPs former Mohammed Al-Juwaihel and Abdul-hamid Dashti and fifth constituency candidate Hani Shams.

They were disqualified by the NEC from the Dec 1, 2012 parliamentary elections on grounds of ‘bad’ reputation. Initially 37 were disqualified but 24 earlier won appeals against their disqualification.
The government, however, through the Fatwa and Legislative Department immediately appealed the verdict of the Administrative Court and the Appeals Court is expected to look into the appeal Thursday, Nov 29, 2012 — on the annulment of the NEC decision regarding 27 candidates.

Commenting on the issue, fourth constituency candidate Mubarak Al-Khurnaij said that classifying some regular court cases as causing ‘bad’ reputation is surprising as the cases are not necessary felony cases. He added the decision to disqualify those candidates was an administrative one by the NEC, not a legal decision.

Kuwait is holding parliamentary elections on Saturday, its fifth poll since June 2006. Here is a look at the process:
n Kuwait has one of the most open democratic systems in the Gulf. Its National Assembly (Majlis al-Umma) has legislative powers and can summon ministers for questioning. The Amir however has the final say in state affairs and can veto laws and dissolve parliament. The head of state, from the 250-year-old Al-Sabah dynasty, also appoints the prime minister who, in turn, appoints the 15-member cabinet.

  • Voters will choose the 50 members of the National Assembly who are supposed to serve four-year terms. In practice, recent parliaments have rarely lasted that long — a series of them have been dissolved during a long-running power struggle between the appointed cabinet and elected MPs.
  • There were 279 candidates registered by a deadline last week — a number which could change if some disqualified applicants are allowed to run. Most have not stood before. Established opposition politicians are boycotting the election in protest over changes to the voting rules.
  • Thousands have staged regular demonstrations since late October against the Amir’s emergency decree reducing the number of votes allowed per citizen from four to one. The opposition says the new rules are an attempt to skew the election in favour of pro-government candidates. They say the four-vote system helped candidates form political allegiances during campaigns by recommending supporters cast their additional ballots for allies. The Amir says the old system had flaws and the changes are for the sake of Kuwait’s security and stability.
  • All Kuwaitis, male and female, can vote once they reach the age of 21. Nearly 423,000 people are eligible to vote out of a population of nearly 1.2 million nationals. The number appears low as Kuwait has a relatively young population. Around two thirds of Kuwait’s inhabitants are foreign nationals. Voting runs from 0800-2000 local time (0500-1700 GMT) on Dec. 1. Kuwait is divided up into five electoral districts, each of them with 10 seats up for grabs. No minimum turnout is required.

Kuwaiti authorities must allow protesters to gather peacefully and express their views without the threat of arrest, Amnesty International said ahead of an opposition march over voting rules planned later this week.

Protesters plan a march in central Kuwait on Friday, on the eve of parliamentary elections which the opposition is boycotting in protest.

Opposition politicians and youth protest groups say new voting rules introduced by Kuwait’s Amir in October are an attempt to skew the Dec 1 election in favour of pro-government candidates.

The Amir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, says the voting system is flawed and that the changes are constitutional and needed for the sake of Kuwait’s “security and stability”.

“Protesters must be allowed to peacefully assemble to voice their views without hindrance or fear of arrest and such gatherings should be permitted to form into marches or other types of peaceful protest,” London-based Amnesty said in a statement posted on its website.

Kuwait’s prime minister said on Monday that the planned protest march had been given permission to
go ahead, in a step which could ease tensions ahead of the vote.

Amnesty said users of social media should also be able to enjoy protection whether they support or oppose the government, as long as they did not incite racial hatred or violence.

Sheikh Sabah is on a state visit to Britain this week and Amnesty called on Prime Minister David Cameron to tell the Amir that Kuwait “needs to avoid a crackdown.”

“The Kuwaiti authorities need to call a halt to increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.”

Several people, including politicians, have been arrested for remarks deemed to undermine the status of the Amir.

The most prominent was Musallam al-Barrak, a former parliamentarian who polled strongly in the last elections in February. He made remarks at a public rally.

Earlier this month four Kuwaitis were arrested for making remarks about the Amir on Twitter that were also deemed illegal.

Amnesty reiterated a call on Kuwait to drop the charges against Barrak, as well as others held either for making remarks about the Amir or for taking part in demonstrations.

“Mr Cameron should make it clear that targeting of Musallam al-Barrak and other activists is totally unacceptable and ought to be ended immediately,” it said.

Kuwait does not allow political parties, so people form loose alliances based on policy, family and religious ties. Below are details of some of the main figures and groups.

Opposition Bloc

Around 34 members of the 50-seat parliament formed the group, also known as the “majority bloc”, after the last elections in February. That gave them a greater share of seats in the National Assembly than pro-government or neutral MPs. But that parliament was dissolved in June after a court ruling.
Bloc members, who include Islamists, populist MPs and liberals, are not standing on Dec. 1, saying recent changes to voting rules would put them at a disadvantage.

Political Groups

The opposition politicians divide into several smaller sub groups. Most of them are part of the opposition bloc but members and group structures change frequently.

  • Islamists

Islamic Constitutional Movement (Hadas) — founded in the early 1990s and affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. It backed a campaign to make Islamic law, or sharia, the source of legislation and has campaigned against corruption. The group had around five representatives in the 2012 parliament.

  • Salafis

There are several Salafi groups which draw influence from Saudi Arabia’s austere version of Islam. The main one, the Islamic Salafi Alliance, opposes votes for women, who were granted suffrage in 2005. It has a smaller influence in political life than the more moderate Islamists.

  • Liberals and populists

Popular Action Bloc — a group headed by former parliament speaker Ahmed al-Saadoun, who backs the election boycott but has warned against protest marches. The group has campaigned on economic issues and some members have drawn tribal support.

Kuwait Democratic Forum and the National Democratic Alliance — liberal groups pushing political and economic reform. Together they had six MPs in the 2012 parliament. They did not always agree on the policies of the opposition bloc.

Several prominent former lawmakers allied to the opposition bloc are thought to play a significant role in shaping its tactics. As there are no political parties, individual figures play an important role.

  • Musallam al-Barrak, a former populist MP who describes himself as an independent, has been able to draw on tribal support. He is under investigation for comments he made about Kuwait’s ruler in October which were deemed insulting by authorities. Some of his slogans have been adopted by protesters in recent rallies.
  • Ahmed al-Saadoun, who was speaker of the parliament elected in February 2012, can also rally tribal support. His son was one of several arrested after taking part in a protest in October.
  • Mohammad al-Dallal, was one of several former Islamist MPs who pushed for legislation to regulate Twitter after a case involving a man convicted of insulting the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) on the site. He has also called for anti-corruption rules.
  • Jamaan al-Herbash, an academic and former Islamist MP who has been outspoken in his criticism of the ruling authorities.
  • Faisal al-Muslem, an academic and former Islamist MP, has also been a vocal government critic and was interrogated about comments deemed to undermine the Amir.
  • Waleed al-Tabtabie, a Salafi former MP, who is one of Kuwait’s most prominent users of Twitter with more than a quarter of a million followers on the site.

Youth Groups
Analysts say youth groups have started to play a leading role in street protests, organising them using social media, planning routes and police-dodging tactics.

The membership and names change regularly and people are sometimes members of more than one group. Some are closer to the opposition bloc while others are thought to be more sympathetic towards Kuwait’s status quo.

Larger groups can splinter into sub groups or combine to form temporary “movements” focused on a single issue.

One of the main groups is the National Front for the Protection of the Constitution, which bases its policy on readings of the state document and possible reforms.

The Progressive Current, a pro-democracy group, looks at political rights. A group called “Nahj” calls for a full democracy in Kuwait. “Kuwait Boycott” has helped to spearhead protests against changes to voting

By: Nihal Sharaf Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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