Freedom in the World
Kuwait’s civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5 due to restrictions on freedom of expression including the legal harassment of critical journalists, as well as a ban on public rallies in September 2010.
In April, journalist Muhammad Abd al-Qader al-Jassem was convicted of slander after he criticized the country’s prime minister. The conviction was overturned in July on appeal, though he faced additional charges at year’s end, including the prospect of an 18-year prison sentence. The Interior Ministry banned public rallies in September after an escalation of sectarian tensions. That same month, authorities came under criticism for banning more than 30 books at one of the country’s largest book fairs. In December, the government shut down the local bureau of the satellite television channel Al-Jazeera for its coverage of a brutal police crackdown on a public demonstration.
Kuwait is not an electoral democracy. The ruling family largely sets the policy agenda and dominates political life. The emir has overriding power in the government system and appoints the prime minister and cabinet. Under the constitution, the emir shares legislative power with the 50-member National Assembly, which is elected to four-year terms by popular vote. The electorate consists of men and women over 21 years of age who have been citizens for at least 20 years; members of most security forces are barred from voting. A 2006 law reduced the number of multimember electoral districts from 25 to 5 in an effort to curb corruption and manipulation. The emir has the authority to dissolve the National Assembly at will but must call elections within 60 days. The parliament can overturn decrees issued by the emir while it was not in session. It can also veto the appointment of the country’s prime minister, but then it must choose from three alternates put forward by the emir. The parliament also has the power to remove government ministers with a majority vote.
Formal political parties are banned. While political groupings, such as parliamentary blocs, have been allowed to emerge, the government has impeded their activities through harassment and arrests.