The Constitutional Court of Kuwait has closed one door for the opposition while leaving another face-saving door ajar for them. The court ruled that the one-man one-vote system that was introduced last year was constitutional but it ruled that the current parliament (voted December 2012) should be dissolved and new elections be held within two months.
The opposition, which is dominated by tribal Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood with support from Wahhabi-Liberals and some secularists, is facing a dilemma. It looks like the one-man one–vote, their main target, is here to stay. They must decide whether to contest the coming elections or boycott and lock themselves and their allied tribes out of the political system again. After all, the core Islamists and tribals among them were close allies of the government ruling “elites” for several decades during which the secular liberals (and the Shi’as) were both cast out in the wilderness, their political institutions repressed.
The opposition shot itself in the foot early on when it dominated the last parliament, weakening their own prospects by going blatantly tribal and sectarian. Most of their members succumbed to pro-Saudi tribal and Salafi instincts, and focused on the Shi’a minority of Kuwait, about 30% of the citizens, for special discriminatory attention. They adopted divisive sectarian political tactics that may have ensured their own marginalization in the long run.
If they now boycott, it is likely that some of the tribal members will split and decide to participate in the contests and the voting. If they decide to contest the elections, some of them may also decide against it and split. Either way, they would lose because the one-man one-vote tends to dilute the political strength of the tribal blocks. Their supporters usually vote along strictly tribal lines; their 5 votes per man/woman have been reduced to one vote. This system reduces the dominance of the large tribes and their (Sunni) Islamist allies and shifts the balance somewhat back toward the traditional influence of city folks, both Sunni and Shi’a.
My guess is that some of them will rejoin the political process. My experience with the tribal Salafis and Muslim Brothers of Kuwait has been that they are willing to dump principle for power. Their commitment to democracy is opportunistic but their commitment to the tribal, clan, and individual power is even stronger. After all, even with the new system of voting they still get a better deal than exists in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, both regimes that the Kuwaiti opposition have strongly supported against the demands of the democratic opposition in both these Gulf countries.
(After writing this post it was announced that 23 former members of the opposition have voted to boycott the coming elections, for now. The next week will clarify things).
I add here the following links to some of my earlier posts on this topic of Kuwait politics: