Reformist lawmakers accused Kuwait's government on Monday of trying to suppress parliament and curb political reform by calling elections before the assembly could pass a bill to limit voting irregularities.
Kuwait's ruling emir dissolved parliament on Sunday and called elections next month - a year early - after an impasse over the government bill. Opponents said the draft bill did not go far enough to curb possible election violations.
Abdullah al-Naibari, secretary-general of the Democratic Forum opposition bloc, said the government was trying to rein in the traditionally fiery assembly.
"The dissolution of parliament is aimed at electing a parliament like the dissolved one, paralysed and without any real impact or independence," he said.
The emir's decision came a week after lawmakers and ministers clashed in the house over the draft law to reduce the number of constituencies to 10 from 25.
Reformists wanted the number reduced further to five, saying it would make elections easier to monitor.
The row descended into a stand-off when government supporters in the assembly voted to send the bill to a high court. The reformists, accusing them of stalling, submitted an unprecedented motion to publicly question the prime minister.
"Parliament was punished, but it was the government that was in the wrong," MP Ahmad al-Mulaifi said.
"This was a body blow to the constitutional process, but the reforms will continue by the Kuwaiti people at the polls."
Kuwait was the first Gulf state with an influential elected parliament, although allegations of vote buying have marred polls.
Islamist and conservative MPs hold sway in the assembly which often clashes with the cabinet and holds ministers - some of them from the ruling al-Sabah family - to task.
Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah said he dissolved the assembly because it had "deviated from the correct demeanour".
"The government has lost all its credibility due to its intransigence and arrogance," said reformist Ahmad al-Saadoun, who led the motion to grill the prime minister.
Ahmad al-Saadun said the govern-
ment has lost credibility (file)
"They avoided the confrontation over the prime minister and they were not serious about reform. Dissolving parliament is punishment for the wrong side."
But Hassan Karam, columnist at the leading al-Watan daily, said both the reformers and the government had lost ground.
"Everybody loses when parliament is disbanded," he wrote. "All doors towards reform are now closed and the issue of constituencies has not been resolved, just delayed.
"The government committed grave errors that led to this situation, but the so-called orange (reformist) MPs are just as guilty. Discussions should have occurred calmly and wisely."