Despite opposition’s boycott, the Kuwaiti government succeeded on Tuesday in securing a parliamentary quorum and a vote for members of the new Cabinet and Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah to be sworn in.
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Yet, regardless of the last-minute breakthrough, the political crisis in the country is set to continue amid growing tensions between the government and parliament and a reluctance to review the current political system which has stalled Kuwait’s reform process.
The Kuwaiti government also managed on Monday to put off to the next session a debate on grilling motions against the prime minister.
This was another win for the new cabinet, which is hoping to avoid confrontation with opposition MPs.
Two grilling motions were on the agenda of Tuesday’s session. MPs Khalid Otaibi, Thamer Suwait and Badr Dahoum submitted one of the grilling motions against the premier while MPs Muhammad Mutair and Hamdan Azmi submitted the other.
Since January this year, the Kuwaiti opposition has chosen to escalate tensions with the government in a series of moves that have prevented the implementation of reforms and government’s pledges while complicating the efforts of Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah towards reaching a “truce” between the two sides.
Only 33 of 50 members of parliament attended the session but that was the number required for a quorum.
Opposition MPs boycotted the parliamentary session, justifying their move by what they considered as a lack of commitment to respond to popular demands in the new government’s programmes and proposed bills.
Experts, however, noted that the opposition’s attempt to prevent the government from taking the oath actually came as a response to Kuwait’s constitutional court order to expel one of their number, MP Bader Dahoum. The move that has inflamed tensions between the government and the legislature.
The court’s ruling cited a previous case where Dahoum was charged with “insulting the Emir”. A 2016 law states anyone convicted of insulting the ruler will be barred from taking part in the parliamentary elections.
Last week, at least 34 MPs insisted that the membership of this leading opposition MP must be settled in a vote in parliament. Their demand, however, fell on deaf ears with the speaker of parliament Marzouq Ghanim saying the court’s decision was automatically enforceable.
“Dahoum’s parliamentarian status has been rendered null and void as per constitutional procedure,” Ghanim said.
The decision to respect the court order further angered the opposition, leading to the release of a statement by 24 MPs who met at Dahoum’s office on Sunday.
Some of them also rallied in front of parliament building on Tuesday, mobilising a number of their supporters to join demonstrations.
Observers who spoke to The Arab Weekly said the opposition had failed to help Dahoum despite all the activism and protests that had taken place over the past few days.
Ghanim succeeded in holding the session leading to the approval of some draft laws guaranteeing bank loans for businesses hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, deferring loan payments for citizens for six months and suspending preventive detention in cases of free expression.
However, the observers warned that Ghanim’s role as a relief valve for tensions between opposition and government could have reached its limits after he himself faced challenges for reelection as the parliament’s speaker.
The Kuwaiti opposition accuses the government of interpreting laws according to its whims and of “bribing” some MPs to impose its political agenda.
The late Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad adopted a confrontational approach with Parliament, which led to its dissolution more than once. However, the current Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad is trying to avoid escalation.
The immediate future, observers warn, will be marked by unprecedented tensions, especially after the rejection “in principle” of proposals for an amnesty law that included pardoning people charged with storming parliament, including former parliamentarians in self-imposed exile abroad.
Political analyst Muhammad Dossari voiced scepticism over the new government’s ability to continue running the country’s affairs, noting the presence of grilling motions against the prime minister.
The Kuwaiti government is facing three grilling motions, the first from MP Dhahoum, whose membership was revoked and the second from MPs Hassan Jawhar, Muhalhal Mudhaf and Muhannad Sayer. A third motion was also submitted against the Health Minister.
While Kuwait’s parliament is a genuinely representative body, which controls and restrains the autonomy of governmental decision-making, its powers remain limited.
Lawmakers can introduce legislation and interrogate ministers, though the emir retains ultimate authority and ruling family members hold senior posts.
Following lawmakers’ uproar over new ministerial appointments earlier this year, the government resigned and to defuse tensions the emir later suspended parliament for a month starting February 18.
The deadlock has pushed oil-rich Kuwait toward its worst financial crisis in decades and impeded all efforts toward political and social reform.
The political stability and balance between executive and legislative authorities have become key points of debate, raising many questions among the public.
Kuwaitis are increasingly concerned about tensions on the political scene at a time when the country is facing unprecedented challenges, including the economic and social repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic and a financial crisis resulting mainly from the decline in oil prices.
Kuwaiti MPs, who are elected for four-year terms, enjoy broad legislative powers and conduct vigorous debates that often spark political crises.
Grilling motions and fierce debates have often brought down governments or led to the dissolution of parliament. Between 2006 and 2013, Kuwait saw ten different governments resign.
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