* Kuwait has so far avoided "Arab Spring"
* Political crisis has held up development plans
* Opposition warns against "aggression" towards march
By Ahmed Hagagy
KUWAIT, Oct 20 Opposition groups in Kuwait say
they will boycott Dec. 1 parliamentary elections, calling
changes to the voting system announced by the government on
Saturday a "coup against the constitution".
Kuwait has been torn by a power struggle between the
government, controlled by the ruling Al-Sabah family, and the
elected parliament. The turmoil has blocked development plans
and paralysed the political system.
The Kuwaiti government, at an extraordinary meeting in
Kuwait city of Saturday, ordered elections to held on Dec. 1,
and decided to amended the election law to allow each voter to
choose only one candidate instead of four.
The opposition, including Islamists, liberals and tribal
figures who won a majority in the 50-seat parliament in the last
election in February, rejected the changes and called for a
protest march on Sunday, said Ahmed al-Dayen, an opposition
Kuwait's oil wealth and a generous welfare state have helped
it avoid the "Arab Spring" protests that forced out leaders
elsewhere in the region. But there have been regular
demonstrations in the country since last year.
Opposition leaders, meeting at a guest house owned by former
parliament speaker Ahmed al-Saadoun, blamed the government for
the political crisis and warned it was driving the country
towards "autocratic rule".
"We call on the proud and free people of Kuwait to ...
boycott the upcoming election, both by (refraining) from running
in it or casting ballots," a statement after the meeting said.
It asked Kuwaitis to join a protest march on Sunday, and
warned the interior minister against committing "aggression"
against it. "We will hold him personally responsible for that,"
the statement said.
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Kuwait's emir, dissolved
parliament on Oct. 7, and under Kuwait's constitution elections
are supposed to be held within 60 days.
It was the sixth dissolution of parliament since early 2006
in the oil-rich state, an ally of the United States.
Sheikh Sabah, in a televised speech on Friday night,
instructed the government to change the election law in what he
said was a move to stem recurring crisis. He also said the
constitutional court had issued a ruling that allowed for any
necessary changes to be made to the country's electoral system.
Kuwaiti authorities arrested two opposition politicians on
Thursday and interrogated a third after they made comments seen
as criticizing the emir.
The former members of parliament spoke at an opposition-led
rally of about 5,000 people on Monday, at which Kuwaitis later
clashed with riot police close to parliament.
The arrests have prompted protests in Kuwait, including one
late on Friday, when some 1,000 people had gathered in the
centre of the capital to demand the release of the detainees.
The events prompted the Al-Sabah family to issue a rare
statement on Thursday calling for obedience to the emir.
The Al-Sabah dynasty has ruled Kuwait for more than 250
years. The 83-year-old emir has led the country since 2006.
Although Kuwait allows more freedom of speech than some of
its fellow Gulf states, the emir is seen as untouchable and is
referred to as "immune and inviolable" in the constitution.
Sheikh Sabah warned in his speech on Friday the recent
political turmoil in Kuwait could lead to "strife that could be
about to erupt and destroy our unity, disfigure our identity and
tear apart our society into fragmented groups".
He said he had instructed the government to establish a
national electoral committee and to organise election campaigns
"to guarantee the integrity of the electoral process."