Nov. 12 - Tens of thousands of Kuwaitis hold peaceful demonstration against new voting laws. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
Tens of thousands of Kuwaitis packed into a square opposite parliament on Sunday (November 11) in a peaceful opposition-led rally against new voting rules. Recent demonstrations against the electoral changes, ordered by Kuwait's ruler last month ahead of a poll on Dec. 1, have led to clashes between protesters and police as marches spread out of the areas usually designated for rallies. Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the 83-year-old emir whose family has ruled Kuwait for more than 250 years, has said the new rules are aimed at preserving national unity. He warned last week there will be no leniency for threats to national security. Hundreds of Kuwaiti men wearing white traditional robes streamed into the square where opposition leaders gave speeches from a stage as protesters, many sitting on carpets drinking tea, sang Kuwaiti songs. Hundreds of women dressed in black traditional robes sat in a separate area of the audience. Helicopters circled overhead and police lined the streets around the square which were clogged with traffic. In a conscious echo of Arab Spring slogans used in other parts of the Arab world, some protesters chanted "The people want to bring down the decree (on voting)." "Our demands are very clear - we want to go back to our old system of five to four and any future changes should come through the National Assembly," said Muneef al-Sarai. Protests have toppled four Arab leaders since last year. Although Kuwait, an OPEC member and United States ally, allows more dissent than most other Gulf states, in recent weeks it has begun to emphasise the limits of its tolerance and has arrested small groups of people at the protests. Made up of Islamist, tribal and liberal lawmakers, as well as youth groups, the opposition said the new voting rules are an attempt to skew the parliamentary election in favour of pro-government candidates. "The one main and clear demand by the people is to send a message to the leadership that we reject these elections because it is considered an encroachment of the executive branch upon the legislative authority. Any amendments should come through the National Assembly only, not from anyone else," Dr. Ibrahim al-Hajiri told Reuters TV. Opposition politicians held a majority in the last parliament which was fraught with legislative deadlock and dissolved by a court ruling in June. Under the new rules, each voter chooses only one candidate instead of four, a move the opposition says will prevent its candidates winning the majority they had in the last vote. They say the four-vote system better enabled candidates to form political allegiances during the election campaign by recommending supporters cast additional ballots for their allies. Tensions over the proposed changes have been building. Police used teargas and smoke bombs to disperse thousands of Kuwaitis protesting beside a motorway on Nov. 4. In October, two demonstrations were also disbanded by police.