KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Kuwait's highest civilian court Tuesday rejected a government bid to rewrite the Gulf nation's election rules, giving an apparent boost to the rising power of opposition groups led by Islamists.
The decision also further complicates the political showdowns in one of America's most strategic Gulf military allies, where the Western-backed monarchy is facing mounting pressures from hardline Islamists and others seeking to impose more conservative policies.
Kuwait's ruling family must now decide when to move ahead with parliament elections under a voting-district map that appears to favor the opposition — which called on the government to resign in the wake of the Constitutional Court decision and set in motion new elections.
On the eve of the court session, thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in Kuwait City in a clear warning that the OPEC member could be pushed into greater tensions if the magistrates sided with the appeal to redraw the electoral districts. Opposition leaders claim the government sought to gerrymander new electoral constituencies for its benefit.
Kuwait has not faced widespread unrest since the Arab Spring uprisings erupted last year across the Middle East, but the country has been locked in deepening political battles and labor upheavals that have stalled many development plans.
Kuwait has the one of the Gulf region's most politically active parliaments, which often clashes with the government over policies and alleged corruption.
Islamist-led opposition factions took control of the 50-seat chamber in February elections and pushed for a larger share of seats in the Cabinet, which is controlled by Kuwait's ruling family. The monarchy later suspended the parliament while it challenged the voting system.
The court decision, announced by the official Kuwait News Agency, upholds a 2006 law that created five electoral districts, which broke down old constituencies and allowed opposition factions to gain strength. It was unclear when new elections could be held.
Kuwait was hit by a wave of strikes earlier this year, including walkouts that grounded the state carrier, Kuwait Airways, and temporarily closed customs posts and left hundreds trucks stranded at the border.
Calls for better working conditions have grown louder in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings. Kuwaitis are used to well-paid government jobs and cradle-to-grave benefits that increasingly have become a burden on state finances.
Kuwait's strategic importance to Washington rose sharply after the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq in December. It is now the hub for U.S. ground forces in the Gulf region, where the U.S. and its Arab allies seek to counter Iran's military build-up.