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Kuwaiti emir laments deterioration in politics

Opening session of parliament ends with more acrimony.

KUWAIT CITY //The Kuwaiti Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Jaber Al Sabah, yesterday urged the government and parliamentarians to tone down "political rhetoric" and cooperate in the interests of the country.

"I am in deep pain as a result of the atmosphere in our dear homeland," Sheikh Sabah told the National Assembly in a speech at the opening session of parliament.

The emir said political crises had divided the executive and legislative authorities as if they "are ardent foes" and not "two arms of a single body".

The relationship between the two authorities struggled through the last term as legislators repeatedly questioned ministers in the chamber and several joined anti-government demonstrations that were held outside the assembly.

Sheikh Sabah said he regretted the rallies. He said the goals of some members of the house are to "destroy rather than construct".

"Where is the voice of wisdom?" the emir asked.

The National Assembly's political woes increased during the summer when allegations emerged that several current and former members of the house took multimillion-dinar bribes.

In the aftermath of the allegations, the public prosecution has been alerted to suspicious transactions in local banks and the anti-government protests have swelled. Last week, almost 5,000 citizens gathered near parliament.

The emir said he was "regretful for the deterioration in political rhetoric" and the practice of questioning people's integrity without evidence. He said "charges of bribery, corruption and treason" were unknown in Kuwait in the past.

Sheikh Sabah also warned against "hateful" tribal and sectarian movements that have spread through the country's sports, education and social institutions. He said they were "feeding the minds of the youth" with destructive concepts.

Kuwaiti youth groups, such as the Fifth Fence, have assumed a leading role in organising the protests against the prime minister.

The speaker, Jassem Al Kharafi, said the political developments in other countries - the Arab Spring - warrant "speedy action to tackle the deviations and the flaws in our practice of democracy".

Realising development, establishing a true democracy and combating corruption "cannot be achieved by self-flagellation", Mr Al Kharafi said. The speaker warned against "those who claim to work in the national interest but work for their own ambitions".

In an ominous sign for the incoming term, the debates following the opening speeches were marred by explosive arguments, temporary adjournments and a walkout of more than a dozen MPs.

And the corrosive relationship between the two authorities and the corruption scandal will not be the only major obstacles facing the assembly this year. The public sector has been blighted by strikes after oil sector workers succeeded in forcing salary increases out of the government last month.

The Prime Minister, Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al Sabah, said during his speech that the "strange phenomena" facing the country include the demonstrations and strikes. He said such actions were "tantamount to attacks on the status of the state, its sovereignty, interests and citizens".

Sheikh Nasser warned that the strikes were "illegal" and that demands must be made "within the framework of the constitutional channels".

The prime minister said the House's lack of development accomplishments, "negative parliamentary practices" and "fruitless speeches" during the previous term had inspired "comprehensive public dismay".

"This, in turn, should prompt us to work harder to ensure that the remaining time of the term will be distinguished with accomplishments that serve the homeland and the citizens," he said.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae

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