KUWAIT: Tens of thousands of opposition protesters called on the government yesterday to repeal a disputed decree that amended the electoral law, triggering a bitter confrontation between the opposition and the government. The large crowd which gathered at Irada Square opposite the National Assembly as was demanded by the interior ministry loudly cheered speakers as they criticized the government for stalling development and dividing society.
The protesters, estimated by the organizers at 200,000 but at much less than that by witnesses, chanted “the people want the cancellation of the decree” and “we don’t want the one vote” in reference to the Amiri decree which reduced the number of candidates a voter can choose from four in the previous law to just one after the amendment. “This aims at preventing the true people’s participation in governance and this will be the result of the one-vote system” which will eventually allow influential people to exploit the country’s huge wealth, former Islamist MP Khaled Al-Sultan said. “We must continue protesting loudly to prevent the government from sliding into deadlock,” he said.
Kuwaiti men wearing white traditional robes streamed into the square where opposition leaders gave speeches from a stage to protesters, many sitting on carpets drinking tea as others sang Kuwaiti songs. Women dressed in black traditional robes sat in a separate area of the audience.
Large numbers of police watched the huge protest without interfering but a helicopter repeatedly flew at a low altitude in what Sultan said was an attempt to disturb the gathering. The helicopter left after almost half an hour and never came back. Sultan said the current crisis in Kuwait is all about violating the constitution, creating a toothless Assembly and seize control of the country’s resources.
Former Assembly speaker Ahmad Al-Saadoun said Kuwait is at a crossroads and it’s time for the government and the regime to reconsider their decision. “We will not accept the situation to continue in the same way… What is going on is a plot against the constitution,” Saadoun said. “This movement will continue and the situation is not in the interests of the country. The side that can defuse the crisis is the government,” Saadoun said.
Former liberal MP Mishari Al-Ossaimi blasted the government for the celebration on the 50th anniversary of the constitution, saying “they were not marking the anniversary but celebrating how they were successful in breaching the constitution”. Ossaimi said that battle for the constitution will be long and decisive as safeguarding the constitution is a matter of “life and death” for the Kuwaiti people. “The crisis is all about the violation of the constitution. We are here today to defend our constitution,” Ossaimi told the cheering crowds.
The speakers also called on the Kuwaiti people to boycott the election scheduled to take place on Dec 1 in order to foil the “government’s plot against the constitution”. Sultan said that some candidates who registered to run in the polls have been paid money but he did not name the side or sides that paid. “The government just wants a parliament that does everything they want,” said computer security manager Abu Abdullah. “They are playing with our constitution.” Fatima Al-Badah, an educational supervisor, said: “The decision (to change voting rules) came from the Amir. It is more accurate if this issue is discussed in parliament. Under the new system it is easier to buy votes.” All opposition groups and figures totally boycotted the registration of candidates for the polls which closed on Friday.