Kuwait is a constitutional emirate with a semi-democratic political system. The hybrid political system is divided between an elected parliament and appointed government.
The Constitution of Kuwait was promulgated in 1962. Kuwait is among the Middle East's freest countries in civil liberties and political rights. Freedom House rates the country as "Partly Free" in the Freedom in the World survey. Kuwait is the only Gulf state that is ranked "partly free".
The Constitution of Kuwait was ratified in 1962 and has elements of a presidential and parliamentary system of government. The constitution stipulates that Kuwait must have an elected legislature (the National Assembly parliament). The Emir is the head of state, whose powers are defined in the constitution.
Citizens who have reached the age of 21 years can vote. Parliamentary candidates must be eligible to vote and at least 30 years old. The Constitution expressly supports political parties, but they remain illegal as no law has arisen to define and regulate them. MPs tend to serve as independents or as members of de facto political parties and factions based on ideology, sect, social class or clan.
The National Assembly is the legislature in Kuwait. The National Assembly has the power to remove government ministers from their post. MPs frequently exercise their constitutional right to interpellate government members. The National Assembly's interpellation sessions of ministers are aired on Kuwaiti TV. MPs also have the right to interpellate the prime minister, and then table a motion of non-cooperation with the government, in which case the cabinet must get replaced.
The National Assembly can have up to 50 MPs. Fifty deputies are elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms. Members of the cabinet also sit in the parliament as deputies. The constitution limits the size of the cabinet to 16, and at least one member of the cabinet must be an elected MP. The cabinet ministers have the same rights as the elected MPs, with the following two exceptions: they do not participate in the work of committees, and they cannot vote when an interpolation leads to a no-confidence vote against one of the cabinet members.
The Constitutional Court has the authority to dissolve the house and must subsequently call for new elections within two months. The Constitutional Court is widely believed to be one of the most judicially independent courts in the Arab world. The Emir also has the authority to dissolve the house and must call for new elections within two months. The Constitutional Court can invalidate the Emir's decree dissolving the parliament.
The National Assembly is the main legislative power in Kuwait. The Emir can veto laws but the National Assembly can override his veto by a two-third vote. The National Assembly (per article 4 of the Constitution) has the constitutional right to approve and disapprove of an Emir's appointment. The National Assembly effectively removed Saad al-Sabah from his post in 2006 because of Saad's inability to rule due to illness. Kuwait's National Assembly is the most independent parliament in the Arab world, it is among the strongest parliaments in the Middle East.
The prime minister chooses the cabinet (government). The appointment of a new government requires the approval of the National Assembly. The prime minister is a member of the ruling family and is appointed by the Emir.
At least one member of the cabinet must be a deputy who won election to the National Assembly. The 1992 cabinet included six elected members of the National Assembly, the most of any cabinet in Kuwaiti history. The current cabinet has two elected members of the Assembly.
The National Assembly has the right to remove government ministers from their post. MPs frequently exercise their constitutional right to interpellate government ministers. The National Assembly's interpellation sessions of ministers are aired on Kuwaiti TV. MPs also have the right to interpellate the prime minister, and then table a motion of non-cooperation with the government, in which case the cabinet must get replaced.
The Emir's powers are defined by the 1961 constitution. These powers include appointing the prime minister, who in turn chooses the cabinet (government). The crown prince must be approved by an absolute majority of the members of the National Assembly parliament. If the new crown prince fails to win approval from the National Assembly, the Emir submits the names of three eligible members of the family to the National Assembly, and the National Assembly selects one to be the crown prince. Upon the death of the Emir, the crown prince succeeds.
In January 2006, the Kuwaiti parliament voted to remove the ailing Emir Saad from power. He was Emir only briefly, after the death of Emir Jaber al Sabah on January 15, 2006. The cabinet nominated the previous Prime Minister, Sabah Al Sabah, to be elected Emir. He won the majority of the votes in the parliament and then became the 15th Emir of the state.
The constitution calls for new elections to be held at a maximum interval of four years (or earlier if the parliament is dissolved). Kuwait has universal adult suffrage for Kuwaiti citizens who are 21 or older.
Once elected, many deputies form voting blocs in the National Assembly. Kuwaiti law does not recognize political parties. However, numerous political groups function as de facto political parties in elections, and there are blocs in the parliament. Major de facto political parties include: National Democratic Alliance, Popular Action Bloc, Hadas (Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood), National Islamic Alliance and Justice and Peace Alliance.