According to the constitution of 16 November 1962, Kuwait is an independent sovereign Arab state, under a constitutional monarch. Executive power is vested in the emir, who exercises it through a Council of Ministers. Succession is restricted to descendants of Mubarak as-Sabah; an heir apparent must be appointed within one year of the accession of a new ruler. The emir appoints a prime minister after traditional consultations and appoints ministers on the prime minister's recommendation. Emir Sabah as-Salim as-Sabah died in December 1977 after a reign of 12 years and was succeeded by Emir Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir as-Sabah. The as-Sabah family, advised by wealthy merchants and other community leaders, dominates the government.
The National Assembly (Majlis) consists of 50 elected representatives. Elections are held every four years among adult literate males who resided in Kuwait before 1920 and their descendants; candidates must be Kuwaiti males at least 21 years of age. As a result, the electorate only accounts for about 10% of Kuwait's total population. In 1996, naturalized citizens who did not meet the pre-1920 qualification but had been naturalized for 30 years became eligible to vote. The assembly may be dissolved at any time by the emir. It was dissolved in 1976, as part of a political crackdown that followed the government's announced support of Syrian intervention in Lebanon. Elections were held in February 1981 and a new assembly was convened after elections in 1985; it was dissolved once again in 1986 as a result of national tensions over the Iran-Iraq war. It remained suspended until elections in October 1992. In 1993, the new Assembly actively produced new legislation, including a national budget. The emir suspended the Assembly once again in 1999, but new elections were held within two months.