The Constitutional Court: A New Threat to Kuwaiti Democracy
Last month, Kuwait’s constitutional court dissolved the parliament (which was elected in February 2012), arguing that the procedures followed by the Emir in dismissing the previous parliament were not constitutional, and thus, his call for new elections was also not legal. The parliamentary majority (consisting of the Popular Bloc and their Islamist allies) were enraged by the ruling which they described as political and a coup against public choice. Pro-government groups and liberals, on the other hand, complimented the ruling as it shows Kuwait as a law-abiding state protected by its higher judiciary court.
The constitutional court might have made the ruling apolitically, since it came after cases submitted by election candidates demanding a recount of votes. Conservative MP Obaid al-Wasmi (previously professor of law at Kuwait University) said the cases submitted by the candidates were not concerned with the legal entity of the parliament but with the results of this year’s elections; Wasmi considers this a reason to believe that the court’s ruling is not honest, but political. Right after the ruling, the opposition started warning the government against changing the electoral system to grant different results.
All the talk about changing electoral districts made many Kuwaitis wonder about the reasons for having such a discussion when the court did not mention it. The opposition wanted to warn of any further steps that authorities might take to try change the political map. They believe the government wants to defeat them indirectly by using the constitutional court, and a move to redraw electoral districts would do that.
The opposition claims that after all the protests that led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Nasser al-Mohammed, the government seems to have changed its methods of confronting its enemies. Already, several constitutional experts are speaking about the abolition of the five electoral districts as something constitutional and expected of the court.
The five-electoral-districts system was implemented back in 2006, the first year Mohammed came to power. Liberal bloggers were the ones who campaigned for this change and successfully created the necessary pressure through sit-ins to have parliament pass it. This replaced the 25 districts division that had been in place and was mainly aimed at achieving parliamentary representation based on electoral programs rather than tribal and/or sectarian allegiances.
The five-electoral-districts system did not necessarily succeed in making the elections center more around political programs, but it is considered a step forward toward one-electoral district which is hoped to produce greater representation.
But what would happen if the current electoral system is nullified by the constitutional court? Would this mean that the power invested in Kuwait’s constitutional court exceeds that of the people represented by the elected parliament? Will this take Kuwait to point zero, after six years of an intense political operation that has witnessed several democratic changes?
The court does not appear to be headed in that direction as this would further complicate the situation in Kuwait. A step like that might take Kuwait into a dangerous situation considering the new calls for a government appointed by the parliament and for a law that permits the existence of political parties. Kuwait is living decisive moments that come with many risks, but those moments will lead to radical changes in its young democracy.