Kuwait's parliament approves decree curbing popular vote

KUWAIT, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Kuwait's parliament on Tuesday
approved a royal decree amending voting rules that sparked mass
protests and an opposition boycott of elections last month in
the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab country, the official news agency KUNA

The emergency decree issued by Kuwait's emir in October - a
week after he dissolved parliament - reduced the number of votes
per citizen to one from four.

While the government said these changes bring Kuwait into
line with democratic norms elsewhere, the opposition, which
includes Islamist, liberal and leftist politicians, said their
aim was to skew polls in favour of pro-government candidates.

Parliament's decision to ratify the decree may help deflect
any legal challenge to the election and lends the measure
political and legal weight ahead of hearings before Kuwait's
constitutional court in the coming months.

"The approval was expected since this parliament was elected
on the back of this decree," said Ghanim al-Najjar, professor of
political science at Kuwait University. "What we really need to
watch is what will happen at the constitutional court."

The court will consider several legal complaints related to
the elections, including whether there was a need for the emir
to issue the decree changing the election law.

Under the former voting system, citizens could select four
candidates using four votes of equal weight, which meant
candidates could call on supporters to cast their additional
ballots for allies in the 50-seat legislature.

The opposition held a majority in the last assembly elected
in February and raised pressure on the cabinet, forcing two
ministers to quit the body, which is dominated by the Al Sabah
royal family that has ruled Kuwait for 250 years.

Kuwait has the most open political system among the Gulf
Arab states. Parliament has legislative powers and the right to
question ministers. But the emir, head of the Al-Sabah family,
appoints the prime minister, who chooses the cabinet.

The government says opposition lawmakers have used
parliament to settle scores rather than pass laws to develop the
economy. Opposition politicians accuse the government of
mismanagement and have called for an elected cabinet.

Parliament also approved a decree issued by the emir that
bans the incitement of sectarian or tribal hatred in Kuwait,
imposing lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines.

(Reporting By Mahmoud Harbi and Raissa Kasolowsky in Abu Dhabi;
editing by Sami Aboudi and Mark Heinrich)