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Kuwait's emir digs in against opposition

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 16, 2012 at 7:02 am •  Published: December 16, 2012
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Kuwait's former voting system allowed up to four votes per person, which was seen as giving an edge to opposition coalitions. They also claim the new rule of one-vote-per-person — imposed by the emir in a decree last month — opens the door for possible vote buying and strong-arm tactics by the ruling system.

The opposition insists that only parliament can change voting rules and the emir went beyond his powers.

"It is the responsibility of the government now to de-escalate the situation," said Shafiq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University. "The government has the power and authority, and if it continues to use power to quell the protests and demonstrations, they are only adding wood to the fire."

At the same time, the opposition groups appear to be moving in different directions without any clear agenda.

Some youth gangs have tried to challenge security forces with roadblocks of burning tires. Others mill about in parks and malls brandishing scarves in orange, the color adopted by the opposition. Elsewhere, anti-government leaders gather in traditional carpeted meeting halls to plot strategy.

Another attempt to rally in front of the parliament building was planned for later Sunday.

It appears to show the fraying bonds between the groups now that the election boycott cannot hold them together.

Liberal factions, for example, seek wider freedoms and Western-style openness — which is deeply at odds with the Islamists who have urged for stricter Muslim codes such as death sentences for those convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

Tribal groups, meanwhile, want to preserve their influence and fear the new voting system erodes their clout.

"It was an alliance of convenience," said Eman al-Bedah, a columnist for the liberal-leaning Aljarida newspaper. "There were many signs that suggested they are not a united group and have no clear plan for what they will do next."

Kuwait also has been hit by a wave of labor unrest and strikes earlier this year, including walkouts that grounded the state carrier, Kuwait Airways, and temporarily closed customs posts and left several hundred trucks stranded at the border.

Calls for better working conditions have grown louder in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. Kuwaitis are used to well-paid government jobs and cradle-to-grave benefits that increasingly have become a burden on state finances despite the huge oil wealth.