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Embattled Kuwaiti PM survives hostile vote

Unprecedented move against the premier may have boosted his stature and could bring stability to the volatile national assembly.

KUWAIT CITY // Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al Ahmed al Sabah comfortably survived the first vote of non-co-operation ever to be held against a prime minister of a Gulf state yesterday. During a "secret" session of the 50-member parliament, 35 MPs voted against the motion of non-co-operation and 13 supported it. One MP abstained and another was not eligible to vote because he is a member of the cabinet.

Possibly because Kuwaitis are becoming indifferent to the political crises that have dogged the country in recent years, fewer than 300 spectators were sitting in the assembly's viewing gallery in the morning, leaving the vast majority of the seats empty. Important sessions normally attract large - or capacity - crowds. The speaker told the public to leave because the government had requested a secret session, and when he announced the result of the ballot around four hours later, the mood of the MPs outside the chamber was conciliatory.

"Now, we have to close this chapter and open up a new one." said one member of parliament, Rola Dashti. "The prime minister has got the confidence of the MPs and we will co-operate with him and other ministers to move forward. "I have a message for the government: it must apply the rule of law, treat everyone equally and implement all of the impending development projects." A tribal MP who often opposes the government, Mubarak al Walan, said: "I congratulate the prime minister for restoring confidence. This is a victory for the Kuwaiti people."

The result was a huge boost for the prime minister and could put an end to the instability that has afflicted the national assembly since he was first appointed, in 2006. Since that time, parliaments have been prematurely dissolved and the cabinet has resigned to avoid threats from MPs to put the prime minister on the podium. Sheikh Nasser has already headed six cabinets. The prime minister said in a statement after the vote: "I confirm my commitment to the constitution and I am committed to supporting democracy. I call for turning a page and looking to the future, and I stress the importance of co-operation between the two authorities."

The prime minister is the emir's nephew and a senior royal. He is not the crown prince but a potential heir to the throne. Since Kuwait's last election, in May, the royal family has taken a different approach to dealing with confrontational MPs. In June, the minister of the interior, Sheikh Jaber al Khaled al Sabah, became the first royal to be questioned in the chamber and in July, he comfortably survived a vote of no-confidence.

By facing the MPs, Sheikh Nasser attempted to neutralise their most potent constitutional weapon: questioning the government's leader. Faisal al Muslim, who questioned the prime minister this month over the issuance of a cheque worth 200,000 Kuwaiti dinars (Dh2.6 million) to a former MP and the misuse of public funds, said he had telephoned the prime minister to congratulate him on the result and explain that his interpellation was not personal.

"I will be the first to support the prime minister if there is compliance with the constitution, but if the standards of the constitution are not met, first we will give are advice and then we will use our constitutional tools." He said yesterday's session should have been open to the public and asked for an investigation into an incident this week when details of the prime minister's questioning - which was supposed to be held in secret - were published in a local newspaper. Some Kuwaitis suspect that an MP recorded the session and leaked it to the press.

Kuwait's constitution allows any MP to question any member of the cabinet and it can lead to a vote of no-confidence or non-co-operation with the support of 10 MPs. Four of the cabinet's ministers have faced requests to question them in recent weeks. The minister of the interior is scheduled to face a vote of no-confidence today. @Email:jcalderwood@thenational.ae

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