KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait warned on Friday that it would not allow any unlicensed protest marches over a court ruling next week which will say whether a new electoral system introduced by the country's ruler is constitutional.
Ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah used emergency powers in October last year to change voting rules, six weeks before the major oil producer was due to hold parliamentary elections.
Opposition politicians boycotted the poll, and on the eve of the election tens of thousands of Kuwaitis marched in protest against the decree.
The case is also sensitive because it questions the emir, who is described as "immune and inviolable" in the constitution.
"Whatever the decision of the constitutional court, we will never allow any rallies or marches outside Erada Square," a statement from the Interior Ministry said, referring to a designated protest area opposite parliament.
Any protesters who break the law will be dealt with "firmly", the statement on state news agency KUNA said.
The government said the new system, which cut the number of votes per person to one from four, brought Kuwait in line with other countries. But opposition politicians said the decree was an attempt to stop them from forming a majority or bloc in parliament.
Political parties are banned in Kuwait and the four-vote system helped opposition MPs form alliances in elections and gave them more clout in parliament.
Activists have called for protests if the court rules in favor of the changes.
U.S. ally Kuwait has not experienced the kind of mass unrest seen elsewhere in the Arab region since 2011 and tolerates more political dissent than other Gulf Arab countries.
However, the regional upheaval has emboldened a vocal political opposition and sharpened criticism of the authorities. Dozens of activists have been charged with insulting the emir since late last year.
If the court rules in favor of the decree "it would allow the government to amend the electoral law at any time", said Ahmed al-Saadoun, a veteran opposition politician and former parliament speaker.
He said the opposition would boycott any elections under the one-vote-per-person system.
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Louise Ireland)