Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah is head of state and appoints Kuwait’s prime minister from within the ranks of the ruling al-Sabah family. The prime minister in turn appoints a cabinet of ministers, with key portfolios, such as defence and foreign affairs, traditionally reserved for members of the royal family. In the past, the role of prime minister was generally given to the crown prince, but this has not been the case since 2003. In recent years, women have regularly been appointed to cabinet posts.

A 50-member National Assembly (parliament) is elected in polls  held every four years. In practice, because of the complicated relationship between the executive and legislative branches of government, elections are held more or less every year. Both men and women can stand for election, and all Kuwaitis over the age of 21 are eligible to vote, apart from members of the military.

The prime minister directly appoints all key government officials, although he has to ratify his decisions through parliament. Some officials, including the head of the state energy firm, Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, are selected by councils of Kuwaiti notables and industry experts, although the prime minister has the final say in their selection. The Emir must issue a decree for each appointment.

In recent years, relations between the executive and legislative branches of government have become increasingly tense. Political parties are banned so lawmakers rely on forming blocs in parliament, with tribal ties playing a major role.

In 2011, the Emir took the rare step of replacing the prime minister in the hope that it would ease tensions. In June 2012, he suspended parliament in order to allow a senior minister to avoid a parliamentary grilling. The country’s Supreme Court announced the same month that an election held in February 2012 had not been legal and reinstated lawmakers elected the previous year. In July, the cabinet resigned, the ninth time in eight years that a cabinet resigned en masse. A new cabinet was announced shortly afterwards. In October, the Emir dissolved parliament again, before it had ratified the new cabinet.

Key political events

2011

16 November: Protesters storm the National Assembly building
27 November: Cabinet resigns and Sheikh Nasser remains caretaker prime minister
28 November: Sheikh Nasser resigns
4 December: Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad al-Sabah appointed prime minister
6 December: Parliament dissolved

2012

14 February: Cabinet appointed and sworn in
24 May: Finance minister resigns
12 June: Minister of social affairs resigns
13 June: Labour minister resigns
18 June: Parliament suspended for a month
20 June: Court rules parliament was elected unconstitutionally and reinstates previous legislature
7 October: Emir dissolves parliament