Musallam Al Barrak has been one of the most vocal opponents to the amendment of Kuwait’s 2006 electoral law either by the constitutional court or by the Emir. Image Credit: AFP

Manama: Kuwaiti authorities showed remarkable self-assurance in dealing with the events unfolding in the country, arresting a prominent opposition leader and announcing the start of the registration process for the parliamentary elections.

Musallam Barrak, a former lawmaker and union leader, was arrested on Monday evening, a week after he was summoned for questioning over a speech at Al Irada Square in which he openly challenged the authority of the ruling family.

Barrak, one of the opposition leaders strongly opposed to the amendment of the 2006 electoral law either by the constitutional court or by the Emir, stood by the view that any change to the legislation was the prerogative of a new parliament.

In his speech on October 15, he addressed the Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah directly and made several remarks that were judged detrimental to the social and political balance of the country.

His unprecedented remarks stoked controversy with several former lawmakers openly calling for legal action against him.

Three other former lawmakers were also arrested last week over lesser charges, but were later released after questioning.

Barrak refused to go to the police station until he received a written statement summoning him for questioning. He was eventually detained on Monday after he gave a press conference. His arrest came eight days after the police and demonstrators clashed during an evening rally organised by the opposition in protest against the amendment of the electoral law.

The amendment pushed by the Emir in the absence of a parliament effectively reduced the number of votes each voter can cast to one. The government said that the ‘one voter, one vote’ principle was the international standard and ensured a fairer representation of the people in the legislature.

The opposition complained that the measure was aimed at curtailing its influence and pave the way for parliaments that were compliant with the government’s positions.

The opposition vowed to resist the changes by whipping up street protests. Several people, from both sides, were injured when clashes broke out during the opposition rally which saw police use teargas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds.

A second rally is expected next week, but no details have been revealed yet.

The government on Monday said that it was ready to deal with all events resulting from the charged political atmosphere in the country and that it would not allow disturbances marked by civil disobedience or violence.

The arrest of Barrak drew sharp criticism from his supporters but there were no reports of violence or protests outside his home in Al Andalus town, 20 kilometres from Kuwait City. No untoward incidents were reported from the capital either after the arrest.

However, Barrak’s brother said that a demonstration would be held to press for his release after he had faced questioning for his remarks.

Several former lawmakers posted tweets that paid rich tribute to Barrak for his dogged positions on corruption and social issues and called for his immediate release.

Some groups said that they stood by the former lawmaker and that they would boycott the elections scheduled for December 1.

The media was deeply polarised over Barrak’s arrest and reactions from various quarters ranged between calls for his release and support for “the application of the law regardless of the name of the people”.

But while the street sentiment remained divided over the arrest and the merit of the next elections, the government announced on Tuesday that the registration for the national elections would start on Wednesday and conclude on November 9.

Prospective candidates must hold the Kuwaiti nationality and be at least 30 years of age as on December 1, the date set for the election.

Those contesting elections must also be to speak and write Arabic and must have a clean security record. Security and army personnel are not allowed to run unless they retire from service, the statement said.

The announcement indicated that the government was not planning to postpone or cancel the elections despite the numerous challenges it faces and that it is treating the arrest of Barrak as a normal event.