The National Assembly of Kuwait
, known as the Majlis Al-Umma
("House of the Nation") (مجلس الأمة), is the legislature
. Its powers are largely controlled by the prime minister
, a position by decree reserved to members of the royal family only. His current speaker is Jassem Al-Kharafi
. The Emir
dissolved the National Assembly in 1986, and restored it after the Gulf War
in 1992. In 1999, his government
attempted to enfranchise women, but the Assembly overrode the Emir.
Until recently, suffrage was limited to male Kuwaiti citizens above the age of 21 whose ancestors had resided in Kuwait since 1920, and adult males who have been naturalized citizens for at least 20 years. On May 16, 2005, however, the Assembly passed a law in support of women's suffrage, allowing women to vote and run for office, as long as they adhere to Islamic law.
The 50-seat assembly is elected every four years. Currently there are five geographically distributed electoral districts. Every eligible citizen is entitled to four votes, though he or she may choose to only cast one vote. The ten candidates with the most votes in each district win seats. Cabinet ministers (including the prime minister) are granted automatic membership in the Assembly. Thus, the actual number of seats in the assembly rises to no more than 66, the exact number depending on the number of ministers at a given time. The Cabinet ministers have the same rights as the elected MPs except that: 1) they do not participate in committees' work, and 2) they cannot vote when an interpolation leads to a "no-confidence" vote against one of the Cabinet members.
The building housing the parliament was designed by the famous Danish architect Jørn Utzon, who also designed the Sydney Opera House.
Dissolving The National Assembly
The Emir of Kuwait has the power to dissolve
the assembly and call for new elections within two months. Such dissolving of the assembly occurred on five separate occasions. On two such occasions, the assembly was dissolved unconstitutionally, where no new elections have been called for within the legally required period. The Emir of Kuwait in such cases ruled by decree
. The first case was in 1976 and lasted until 1981. The other case lasted from 1986 until 1992. On three other occasions, the assembly was dissolved and new elections have been called for within the legal period, one in 1999, one in 2006, and the latest in 2008. The 2006 dissolution was brought by what is locally know as the Kuwaiti Orange Movement
where mass protests and demonstrations demanded a reduction of electoral districts from 25 to 5.
While political parties are not legally recognized in Kuwait, a number of political factions exist. The assembly is composed of different unofficial political factions in addition to independents:
- The Islamic bloc: Consisting mainly of Salafi and Hadas members. The Islamic bloc is the most influential bloc in the assembly with around 21 members elected in the 2008 national elections (17 in the 2006 election), although its loose organization made it less effective. Their chief goal is the complete return of the Shari'a law. Bills supported by the Islamic bloc include the elimination of co-education at the university level (passed in 1998).
- The Shaabi (Populist) bloc: A coalition of independents and other nationalist parties with a focus on lower- and middle-class issues. In 2006 national elections, they won around 10 seats of the parliament.
- The liberal bloc: With eight members elected in the 2006 elections. The liberal bloc supported the women's suffrage bill in 1999 and 2005.
In 2006 general election, a coalition of 29 candidates who were members of parliament was formed (which was increased to 36 members after the election) for supporting the 5 electoral districts bill.
- June 191961- The Independence of Kuwait.
- February 271962- The Preliminary Assembly convened.
- November 111962- The Constitution of Kuwait was signed by the Emir, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah after being passed unanimously in the Assembly.
- January 291963- The First constitutionally elected Assembly convened.
- February 271967- The second elected Assembly convened, allegedly by forged elections.
- August 291976- The first, unconstitutional, dissolution of the Assembly by Sheikh Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah.
- July 31981- The second, unconstitutional, dissolution of the Assembly by Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.
- May 41999- Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah dissolved the National Assembly on the grounds of a political deadlock between the Government and the Assembly. This time he called for elections within the constitutional period of two months.
- November 231999- The National Assembly rejects an amiri decree by Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah to grant women's suffrage in the 2003 elections.
- January 242006- The National Assembly of Kuwait voted ruling emir Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salim Al-Sabah out of office just moments before a letter of abdication was received from the emir. The Kuwait Cabinet nominated Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, prime minister, to take over as emir.
- January 292006- Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah was sworn in as the 15th emir of Kuwait, which was unanimously approved by the National Assembly.
- May 212006- Amidst week long disputes over reform to decrease the number of electoral districts, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah dissolves the Assembly calling for new elections June 29th of 2006.
- March 172008- Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad again dissolves the Assembly due to misuse of parliamentary powers by some members. He called for elections May 17, 2008.