A section of the rally against the Kuwait elections on the Gulf Road.
THOUSANDS JOIN PEACEFUL PRE-POLL BOYCOTT MARCH Voter turnout to ‘test’ Opposition

KUWAIT CITY, Nov 30: Tens of thousands participated in an opposition march on the Gulf Road on Friday calling for the boycott of the upcoming parliament elections on Dec 1.

Opposition activists organized the third ‘Nation’s Dignity’ rally a day before the elections under the newly established one-vote electoral system in objection to the historic event.

The licensed procession ended peacefully amidst light security presence, unlike previous events, and lasted the scheduled two-hours of the afternoon. It took place from Safir International Hotel to the Kuwait Towers and back.

Wearing orange scarves, symbolic of the opposition movement, men, women and children released hundreds of orange balloons to the sky and waved orange flags as well as Kuwait’s national flag. Slogans calling for the boycott of elections and rejecting the one-vote decree of urgency were chanted and placards were carried attesting the same.

“The people want to bring down the decree,” chanted participants, “we reject the one-vote ... boycott, boycott, boycott”.

Prominent opposition figures joined the procession. Referring to the boycott campaign, former MP Musallam Al-Barrak said “tomorrow we will celebrate the toppling of the unconstitutional decree”.
The opposition said that the new Parliament will not be deemed legitimate by the people who will continue protesting against the next National Assembly until its “brought down”.

Estimate

The march’s organizers estimated that 200,000 attended the procession, while eyewitnesses say the estimate is much less.

Kuwait’s disaffected say they seek democratic reform, not revolution in the mould of Arab Spring revolts elsewhere. His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah said the amendments to voting rules were made to preserve national security and stability.

“The people want to bring down the decree!” demonstrators chanted, in a variation on the slogans of uprisings that have ousted autocratic rulers of four other Arab states.

“The message that the Kuwaiti people send ... is that they refuse the changing of the election law by the authorities,” said Ahmed Al-Saadoun, a former parliament speaker and now prominent opposition figure. “The number of people is a reflection that this decree must be scrapped.”

Former MP Jamaan Al-Harbash, an Islamist, said the march was the largest of its kind in Kuwait’s history. “The Kuwaiti people refuse elections and refuse the pro-government parliament.”
“This (voting rule) change is against our rights,” 28-year-old social worker Abdul Mohsen said. “There is corruption in the government. We want to fight corruption.”

Bader Al-Bader, an unemployed 33-year-old, said: “The government does not believe in having the real democracy that most people believe in nowadays. They believe Kuwait is just a big bag of money and an oil rig.”

Kuwait has the most open political system among the Gulf Arab states and the government authorised Friday’s march, hoping to see the opposition let off steam before Saturday’s vote.

“The people are not against the ruler, they are against corruption and corrupt people, and people who think about changing the constitution,” former opposition MP Musallam Al-Barrak said.

Parliament has legislative powers and the right to question ministers. But the Amir, head of the Al-Sabah family that has ruled Kuwait for 250 years, appoints the prime minister, who chooses the cabinet.
The Amir used emergency powers in October to cut the number of votes per citizen to one from four, saying the change would fix a flawed system and maintain security and stability.

Under the old system, candidates could call on supporters to cast additional ballots for their allies.

Supporters of that system say such informal affiliations are crucial in a country where political parties are banned.

The government says opposition lawmakers have used parliament to settle scores rather than helping pass laws needed for economic development. Opposition politicians accuse the government of mismanagement and have called for an elected cabinet.

Kuwait state has held four parliamentary elections since 2006, after a series of assemblies collapsed because of the power struggle between elected lawmakers and the government, which has held up investment and economic reforms.

Opposition lawmakers won around two-thirds of the 50-seat National Assembly in February and formed a bloc that put pressure on the government, forcing two ministers from office.

“I am conscious that there are those who have called for a boycott of the election,” Information Minister Sheikh Mohammad Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah said late on Thursday.

“I find this of great regret and I hope to the bottom of my heart that the 400,000-plus Kuwaitis who have the ability to cast their vote for their preferred candidate will exercise their democratic right to do so.”
With opposition lawmakers opting out, the incoming parliament will include many political newcomers. A low turnout would undermine parliament’s legitimacy in the eyes of many.

“The Amir changed the voting rules. We believe the change has to come with the parliament. It is the parliament that represents the people,” said protester Hanouf, 40, a marketing specialist who declined to give her second name.

She said current election candidates were mostly new and unqualified with “no clue how to be in parliament or politics”.

The opposition, a disparate collection of moderate Islamists, Salafis and populist politicians, dominated parliament until it was dissolved after a June court ruling.

The opposition has won the backing of youth groups who have already helped organise protests against the voting rule change.

Kuwaitis often hold protest rallies outside parliament. But recent marches in the streets beyond, which authorities said were unlicensed, have been broken up by police using tear gas, smoke bombs and baton charges.
 


By: Nihal Sharaf and Abubakar A. Ibrahim Arab Times Staff and Agencies

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