KUWAIT CITY – Kuwait's constitutional court further complicated the country's chaotic political situation on Wednesday, ruling the parliament was elected unconstitutionally and restoring the previous legislature.
The state news agency KUNA said the court threw out the February 2 vote because Kuwait's leader, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, drew up the decree for the elections after the Cabinet resigned.
A caretaker Cabinet was appointed before the decree was issued, but the court ruled that was insufficient and voided the election.
Tensions have flared since the election gave the opposition control of the chamber. Islamists and their allies have pressured two ministers to resign The opposition bloc insisted it deserved more than half the seats in the 15-member Cabinet because of the election results.
Opposition lawmaker Musallam Al-Barrak told KUNA that it was a "blatant attack on the choice of the people."
The court's decision canceling the vote sparked a furor on social networking sites and prompted about 400 demonstrators to protest the decision outside parliament Wednesday.
The peaceful protest went well beyond the court ruling, with protesters calling for laws allowing the formation of political parties, reforms in voting laws and the replacing of Prime Minister Sheik Jaber Al Hamad Al Sabah with someone not linked to the royal family.
"Leave, leave, Jaber, leave," protesters chanted.
About 100 people held a counter-demonstration nearby, criticizing the dismissed lawmakers for spending too much time in the past few months on morality issues, like a dress code for women, rather than measures aimed at developing the country's economy. Many waved Kuwaiti flags and held pictures of the country's emir.
"Respect the country's laws and the decision of the court," activist Aisha al-Reshaid said.
The decision to cancel the election came just days after the government suspended parliament sessions for a month over an escalating feud with Islamist-led opposition lawmakers seeking a greater voice in the Gulf nation's affairs.
The court reinstated the previous parliament, elected in 2009, seen as more liberal and supportive of the government. After the old parliament reconvenes, analysts in Kuwait expect that elections will be called within 60 days.
"This glitch has caused chaos and delay, but it's the ruling of the highest court and it can't be challenged," said Ghanim al-Najjar, a political science professor at Kuwait University.
Al-Najjar said there are fears that the 2009 parliament would remain in office, but he said that was unlikely. "If they do that, it will be considered a challenge to the choice of the people, and the government cannot afford to do that," he said.
Kuwait's Cabinet met after the ruling and said it would continue evaluating the situation on Thursday.
Kuwait has the Gulf's most politically independent parliament. It often demands to question top officials and has the ability to pass no-confidence votes to oust Cabinet officials.
The battles between the government and parliament have taken a toll on the country, and Kuwait's rulers appear to have grown tired of the political stalemate. The skirmishes have diverted attention from economic development proposals and other issues, such as simmering labor unrest in OPEC's fourth-largest oil exporter.