Challenge to PM brings Kuwait a breath of Arab Spring


Kuwait has been little touched by the wave of unrest that has swept some of its neighbours this year. But the storming of parliament by protesters last week brought it just a taste of the Arab Spring.

The usually placid, oil-rich Gulf state has long prided itself in having a more democratic system than most countries in the region. But a bitter row ignited by demands for the prime minister’s resignation has brought calls for fundamental reforms.
“The Kuwaiti constitution can no longer accommodate the movement on the street,” said Islamist lawmaker Jamaan al-Harbash, calling for an end to Kuwait’s ban on political parties, Reuters reports.
“There must be a system of political parties in Kuwait so that it becomes a democracy that fosters state institutions rather than a clannish, tribal state,” he said.
“At a time when other Arab states are progressing, there is a dangerous regression taking place in Kuwait.”

The opposition want to oust ruling family member Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, accusing him of corruption. He denies the allegation.

The invasion of parliament by protesters came after the government and parliament blocked a request by some lawmakers to question Sheikh Nasser, a move opposition lawmakers decried as unconstitutional.
“Unless he steps up to the platform for questioning or resigns, there will be consequences,” said leading opposition MP Musallam al-Barrak, who has wide popular support and is one of Sheikh Nasser’s most vocal critics.

Barrak says he invited protesters to enter parliament but distanced the opposition movement from the uprisings that have toppled autocratic leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
“Our spring is completely different. The Arab Spring is directed against the regimes. Our spring is directed against the prime minister and corruption, but we are devoted to the system of governance in Kuwait,” he said.

Pro-government Shi’ite MP Saleh Ashur denounced the opposition for taking its campaign to the streets.
“Political activity must take place under the roof of parliament. We must take notice of what is happening in other Arab states and safeguard the stability and security of our country,” he said.
“Hopes are one thing and political realities something else altogether”.

Kuwait’s emir on Sunday denounced as a “black day” the storming of parliament and said he would not dissolve the assembly or allow the prime minister to resign.

Of the assembly’s 50 elected members, as many as 26 oppose the prime minister, analysts say, but the 15 appointed ministers who make up the cabinet support him, giving him an overall majority in parliament.

Ministers cannot take part in a vote of no confidence, which is held if ten lawmakers submit a written request following a parliamentary questioning. That means if Sheikh Nasser were to be questioned, there may be enough signatures to force a vote to push him out, although he has survived similar parliamentary challenges in the past.

Asked what action he would take if the prime minister stayed and was not subjected to parliamentary questioning on November 29, Barrak told Reuters it was for the people to decide.
“I believe that this assembly is tainted and it must be dissolved and return to the people as the source of power,” he added.