Kuwait’s political blues revisited

By Marwan Asmar

In a nutshell, the ongoing Kuwaiti domestic political turmoil can be nothing more than a storm in tea cup. There is a sense of deja vu about it, as if we have all been here before. The recent rift between the legislative and the executive authorities is just another step in a series of recriminations that has continued, practically, ever since the National Assembly was set up the early 1960s.

The latest dispute, one among many and which previously led to successive dissolutions of the country’s parliament and even its closure in the late 1970s and early 1980s, resulted in the unexpected resignation of the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah, to circumvent the vote of no-confidence motion tabled by deputies, which was due to take place last week against one member of the cabinet.

The resignation of the government abruptly put a stop to that because under the Kuwaiti constitution at least one member of the government has to be present when a parliamentary debate is taking place. So with the resignation, parliamentary work also came to a halt, awaiting the formation of a new cabinet is already in the pipeline but is expected to take weeks.

Kuwait’s Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah has already entrusted the formation of cabinet to the outgoing prime minister Sheikh Jaber Al Mubarak who will be choosing new faces to replace older ones.

Sheikh Jaber Al Mubarak

On the face of it, it seems easy. However, the formation of a new cabinet or government is the prerogative of Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber and doesn’t have to get a vote of confidence from the National Assembly.  All they can do is question ministers as stated in the constitution which over the years has become a contentious issue and led to dissolutions of parliaments and resignations of governments and ministers which led mostly to their reappointments or that of the Prime Minister as in the latest tiff between the National Assembly and the government, which nearly always constitutes ministers from the ruling Al Sabah family, and those which are appointed by the Emir.

 As in previous parliaments, the National Assembly this time around decided to flex its muscles. But the move was much too early. On the first day of the opening of the parliamentary session it tabled a vote of no-confidence motion against what is seen as one of the key members of the government, State Minister for Cabinet Affairs and Acting Minister of Information Shaikh Mohammad Abdullah Al Sabah for alleged budgetary mismanagement, lack of government transparency, unemployment levels and the failure to manage state projects, all of which he categorically denies. In line with the accountability issue, he was grilled by parliamentary deputies and afterwards the motion was tabled by 11 members of the house for the following week which would have led to many parliamentarians voting him down and led to his sacking, creating a major embarrassment to the government.

It would be naïve to suggest there wasn’t a degree of political dexterity and connivance, played at the highest political pecking order, with government and deputies trying their hand at a hard-ball game of brinkmanship to further their own ends

 This time around, and especially since the last National Assembly was elected in 2016, the government lost most of its supporters as nearly half of the 50-persons National Assembly are made up of opposition deputies and mostly are Islamists who boycotted parliament since 2012 but persuaded to enter this time around. However, these deputies want to exercise their muscle and already much issue with the government, one of which is relating to the restoration of citizenship to those it had taken from them. After weighing up the situation in parliament and the possible vote calculations needed of “half-plus-one”, the government backed off and submitted its resignation as a self-facing exercise and the most appropriate to get out of the political merry-go-around of opening itself to what is seen as baseless accusations.

 It’s still touch-and-go. The Emir has the power to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections and start anew, so to speak, but this would accentuate the political malaise in the country of short governments, lacking stability and permanence to carry out policy and seeing its fruits of borne out. Since 2012 there has been four parliamentary elections and seven since 2006 with continual changing of faces in the legislature and to a lesser extent the cabinet. Pundits have argued going to the polls have been used both a carrot and a stick and resulted in the disruption of policy and legislation. This might be why the Emir and government are taking a more laid-back approach to the last spat with the National Assembly. The easiest thing of course would be to dissolve the Assembly, but who would really benefit, if this step is taken. This time around, what is being talked about is a cabinet reshuffle, one now doubt being taken to placate the deputies, instead of embarking on a political process that is lengthy, costly and leads to more disruptions in the public bureaucracy, at a time when government revenues, which greatly depend on oil that are presently at their lowest and bearing in mind this government is number 34 in the history of modern Kuwait.

For more than half a century Kuwait’s parliament has been blighted by bickering and disruption

 Regardless, and because of the lengthy representative experience of Kuwait that spanned over 50-years, it would be naïve to suggest there wasn’t a degree of political dexterity and connivance played at the highest political pecking order, with government and deputies trying their hand at a hard-ball game of brinkmanship for their own ends. It may simply be said this time around the government felt it needed to act quickly to divert a bigger and potentially-ruinous political disaster because the no-confidence motion was only the start of a series of measures by deputies to bring ministers to their knees by bringing them overhaul to account which may have led to a worsened political state.

 

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