The State of Kuwait is a hereditary constitutional monarchy, headed by an emir chosen from the Al-Sabah family. The current emir is Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, who acceded to the throne in 1977. Sheikh Jaber al-Sabah is head of state and head of the executive council of ministers, and he rules by decrees agreed to by the council of ministers and, in theory at least, approved by the 50-member National Assembly.
Kuwait can be considered a typical rentier state, that is, a state benefitting from large revenues from the sale of natural resources, in this case oil. As in another oil-dependent sheikhdom, Bahrain, the government distributes the income to its citizens by providing them with jobs and welfare and keeping taxation low. In return, Kuwait's citizens are tied to the state and remain loyal to an undemocratic regime. The concept may be captured in the phrase, "no taxation, no representation."
No political parties are allowed in Kuwait although informal groupings do exist. The largest are the religiously motivated Islamic Patriotic Coalition, the Islamic Constitutional Movement, and the Islamic Popular Grouping, also called the Salafi. The Kuwait Democratic Forum is the largest secular political group and is the voice of liberal and Arab nationalist opinions. The legislature, Majlis Al-Umma, is a unicameral National Assembly of 50 elected members, plus appointed cabinet ministers, serving for a 4-year period. The Assembly's legislative power is restricted, since the emir can simply dissolve it at will and rules by decree. In fact, the National Assembly was temporarily dissolved by decree of the emir in 1976, 1986, and 1999. Kuwaitis under the age of 21 and women cannot vote. Though the issue of women's suffrage (right to vote) is heavily debated, in January 2001, Kuwait's constitutional court followed a lower-court ruling refusing to grant women their voting rights.
The Kuwaiti emir also has ultimate authority over major decisions relating to oil. In December 1975, the country nationalized its domestic and foreign oil assets and created the Kuwait Petroleum Company (KPC), which is an umbrella company for subsidiaries handling oil production and marketing. The economy is heavily dominated by state-owned enterprises.