Kuwait sets sixth parliamentary election in seven years
KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait will hold its sixth parliamentary election in seven years on July 25, a snap vote ordered by its top court after the current assembly was dissolved earlier this week in another sign of political turmoil in the Gulf Arab state.
Almost constant factional infighting and disarray has stalled infrastructure development and held up economic reforms in Kuwait, an important oil producer and U.S. ally.
On Sunday opposition supporters lost a legal fight to undo changes to the voting system they said favor pro-government candidates - a dispute which aggravated political tensions.
The Constitutional Court however found fault in the process leading up to the last elections in December and ordered a new ballot for the 50-member assembly.
"At an extraordinary meeting held today, the cabinet approved a draft decree inviting voters to elect members of the National Assembly on July 25," the state news agency KUNA quoted Minister for Cabinet Affairs Sheikh Mohammad al-Mubarak al-Sabah as saying on Thursday.
The date falls during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Kuwait's parliament gives its people greater say than in other tightly-controlled Gulf Arab monarchies, although the ruling emir still has the final word in state matters and members of his Al-Sabah family occupy top posts.
Opposition politicians boycotted the last election in December in protest at changes to the voting system decreed by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah six weeks beforehand.
They said the changes made it more difficult to form alliances in a country that bans political parties. The government says the new rules brought Kuwait's system in line with voting systems used elsewhere in the world.
Under the old system, voters were allowed to cast ballots for up to four candidates, which the opposition said allowed alliances that partly made up for the absence of political parties. The new voting system allows votes for only a single candidate, which the opposition says makes alliances difficult.
The 84-year-old emir, who has ruled Kuwait since 2006, said the changes were aimed at ensuring security and stability after policymaking stalled in the previous opposition-dominated parliament.
He has urged Kuwaitis to put the debate over the voting rules behind them and participate in the upcoming election.
Sheikh Sabah's move to change the voting system last year touched off some of the largest protests in Kuwaiti history and the December poll had the lowest voter turnout since the first election held in 1963.
Prominent Islamist and populist opposition politicians have said they will not stand in any future election under the one-vote system but some liberals and Salafi Islamists have said they will compete, splitting the opposition.
(Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Mark Heinrich)