KUWAIT CITY -- Kuwait's emir, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah, announced yesterday that elections will be held in October 1992, to the dismay of opposition leaders who had hoped for speedier democratization.
"It only confirms our suspicions about the al Sabah attitude toward democracy," said Abdullah Naibairi of the Kuwait Democratic Front. "Postponing elections until very late in 1992 will give the authorities time to arrange things in Kuwait . . . so as to have a docile election and a docile Parliament, which is what they have always wanted."
Although the United States had also been calling for elections in early 1992, the Western diplomatic reaction was more muted.
"I think it's a positive step in that a lot of people questioned whether or not the government was sincere in calling for elections, and there was a lot of criticism that [the emir] hadn't yet set a date," one diplomat said.
"It's not totally unexpected but the fact that he set a date is an attempt to defuse frustration," said another. "I just think 18 months is too long. It wouldn't surprise me if they have to bring [the date] forward."
The emir dissolved Parliament in 1986 in response to an increasingly boisterous opposition and a spate of guerrilla attacks on Kuwait City during the Iran-Iraq war.
But, while in exile during the Iraqi occupation, he pledged to revive Kuwait's 1962 constitution and restore Parliament by holding national elections by the end of 1992.
The opposition has been pushing for speedy elections and expansion of the franchise, including extending the vote to women. They have also demanded an end to press restrictions, legalization of political parties, and a Cabinet less dominated by members of the royal family.
Resistance leaders who stayed behind to face the Iraqis while the government fled to Saudi Arabia are expected to mount the most significant challenge to the government, though none has advocated ending the Sabah family's 250-year rule.
The emir's decree also revived the National Council, an interim assembly that was created last April after pro-democracy protests. The council has 50 members, of whom 35 were appointed by the emir and 15 were chosen in an election that was boycotted by opposition leaders.
The council will meet July 9 for the first time since the Aug. 2 invasion, the decree said.
"This [council] is unconstitutional, it is divisive and it is not in the interests of the Kuwaiti people," Mr. Naibairi said. "It is a calculated step to deceive world opinion."
Issa Shaheen, spokesman for the Islamic Constitutional tTC Movement, called on the members of the National Council to resign and "side with the people on this."
Mr. Shaheen said he fears the government may use the next 16 months to amend the election laws and gerrymander voting districts to strengthen its position.
Both leaders said they would try to step up public pressure for earlier elections and other tangible steps toward democracy.