Could Kuwait’s Courts Overrule the Election Decree?

On Monday, November 26th, Kuwait’s Administrative Court is expected to issue a ruling on a legal challenge to the decree by the Emir which reduced the number of votes that each citizen is allowed to cast from four to one. Riyadh Al-Sane, a Kuwaiti lawyer challenged the constitutionality of the decree and is also arguing that the election scheduled for December 1st (next Saturday) should be postponed until that challenge is ruled upon. The court has announced that it will issue its ruling on Monday.

According to an article from Al-Hayat that was republished and Translated by Al-Monitor, the court will be deciding whether or not the election should be postponed until the Constitutional Court can review the decree by the Emir. The Emir, it should be noted, has said that he would accept any ruling by the constitutional court on the issue.

In the event that the issue came before the constitutional court, it is not entirely certain how the court would react to it. Two recent rulings – one of them favorable to the government, the other unfavorable – illustrate that the court has acted contrary to the wishes of the executive branch before, making this another wildcard in Kuwait’s political crisis. In June, the Court dissolved the previous parliament (which was elected in February of this year) because it said that the Emir’s decree calling for the elections in February was not issued correctly.

However, in September they rejected the government’s appeal against the electoral law passed in 2006 which reduced the number of constituencies to five, with ten members elected from each one. On October 19th, the Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah issued a decree which kept the number of constituencies the same but reduced the number of votes that each citizen has from four to one, meaning that the election according to the opposition, is more susceptible to government manipulation. The protests (and the accompanying election boycott) which have erupted recently cite as a major demand the revocation of the Emir’s decree.

As the situation stands now the election – with virtually all opposition groups boycotting – is more of a referendum on the current political system than an election, as regardless of turnout it is guaranteed that the candidates elected will be favorable to the government. The government has launched a media campaign urging citizens to vote because it wants a higher turnout that would signify support for the current system. If the election goes forward as it is, it would mark a new phase in Kuwait’s current political crisis.

A ruling against the decree could – potentially – take the situation in a different direction. It would give a boost to demonstrations, and would likely set the stage for yet another election campaign with the central issues of the way Kuwait is governed still unresolved.

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