x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Kuwait faces new political turmoil over fate of prime minister

The prime minister will need support from 25 of 49 eligible MPs in a vote of non-cooperation on June 23, or the emir will face the difficult choice of sacking him or calling an early election.

Kuwaiti prime minister Sheikh Nasser al Mohammad al Sabah (centre) faces a vote of con-cooperation from the country's MPs. Yasser al Zayyat / AFP Photo
Kuwaiti prime minister Sheikh Nasser al Mohammad al Sabah (centre) faces a vote of con-cooperation from the country's MPs. Yasser al Zayyat / AFP Photo

KUWAIT CITY // The emir of Kuwait issued a stern warning against chaos as his country faces political turmoil in the National Assembly and regular protests to demand a new prime minister.

Sheikh Sabah al Ahmed al Jaber al Sabah made the comments during a live television broadcast on Wednesday night, a few hours before another member of the royal family voiced support for the pro-democracy movements sweeping across the region.

Sheikh Sabah said there are "very serious and harmful practices" taking place in Kuwait's parliament. He said some MPs have deviated from the "genuine values" of Kuwaiti society, such as "respect for the law and constitution and commitment to decency".

Kuwait's parliament, which the emir has the power to dissolve, has been embroiled in a conflict with the government that has led to a series of political crises. Most recently, the cabinet resigned in March to prevent MPs from questioning three royal ministers.

Within months of a new cabinet being sworn in MPs questioned the reappointed prime minister, Sheikh Nassar Mohammed al Sabah, on Tuesday about Kuwait's relationship with Iran. The prime minister will need support from 25 of 49 eligible MPs in a vote of non-cooperation on June 23, or the emir will face the difficult choice of sacking him or calling an early election.

The MPs "went as far as to infringe on the dignity of others and offend sisterly and friendly countries", Sheikh Sabah said during his speech. There's no room for "chaos that could jeopardise the nation's security, wealth and gains", he said.

Emboldened by protests in other parts of the region, rallies organised by youth groups demanding the removal of Sheikh Nasser have gathered pace in recent weeks. Thousands have attended some of the gatherings that are usually held on Fridays near parliament.

Sheikh Sabah said he has asked the minister of interior to "adopt all necessary measures" to protect the country's stability.

"We have to be aware of the several and huge dangers and challenges that Kuwait faces in light of the recent developments in the region," he said, adding that the speech was "a national awakening call, particularly to the youth, to help protect national unity".

Kuwait's parliament has been unconstitutionally dissolved on two occasions since it was established in 1962. Even so, the emir said: "I have full confidence in our democratic approach and will not replace it with any other."

Faisal al Duwaisan, an MP, said after the speech that the emir's recommendations were not more than wishful thinking.

"They are orders that must be followed with the aim of preserving the security of the country and the people," Mr al Duwaisan said. "His Highness's message is clear to those who are gathering on Fridays and those parliament members who support them to rely on the constitution rather than the streets."

Sheikh Fahad Salem al Sabah, another royal family member, voiced support for the pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and North Africa while speaking to journalists at the UN headquarters in New York.

The region's autocrats should "draw the appropriate lessons" from the mass protests against poverty and cronyism from Morocco to Yemen, said the sheikh, who is also the president of the Kuwait-based Centre for Dialogue among Civilisations and Defence of Liberty.

"These are the winds of change. Change against corruption, oppression and injustice," he said. "We have seen Tunisia shake itself loose from oppression. Egypt has succeeded in its revolution and hopefully soon we see the people of Libya take the reins of rule in their own country."

Sheikh Fahad was in Manhattan to push for more aid supplies to Libya's Transitional National Council.

The reformist royal also spoke on the situation in Syria, where some 1,400 protesters have died during a government clampdown.

"The international community cannot remain on the sidelines while all these atrocities, massacres, are being perpetrated," he said.

Sheikh Fahad's comments are a departure from the royal family's approach to Syria so far. As recently as March, the emir telephoned the Syrian president, Bashar al Assad, to offer his support, the state news agency, Kuna, reported.

When protesters took to Kuwait's streets against the prime minister, Sheikh Fahad said he joined his countrymen to mediate between the crowds and police.

"You can imagine the sensitive position in which I found myself when I was in the middle of those protests," he said. "One part of me was on this side and another part of me was on the other side.

"Nonetheless I stayed the course and will continue to support the demands of those who are demanding change."

* James Reinl reported from New York