x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Kuwait's cabinet quits amid claims of corruption

Opposition politicians hold a large demonstration in Kuwait despite an announcement that the emir had accepted the cabinet's resignation earlier in the day.

KUWAIT CITY // Opposition politicians held a large demonstration in Kuwait yesterday despite an announcement that the emir had accepted the cabinet's resignation earlier in the day.

With more than 10,000 people, the gathering was the largest since tension between the government and the opposition escalated after a corruption scandal this summer.

"This is a half-celebration," said Naji Al Abdulhadi, a member of parliament at the rally, where Kuwaitis packed into Determination Square, near the National Assembly, to listen to speeches from the opposition.

Members of parliament want to be better represented in the next cabinet, which is selected by the prime minister, and a fresh election for the people to choose new representatives.

They also want the judiciary to be "isolated" from the government, Mr Abdulhadi said.

He believes the people would elect better representatives because "people in Kuwait are different" after years of poor treatment by their government.

The emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah, tasked ministers with continuing their service until a new government could be formed.

In a letter explaining his motives for the resignation, Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al Sabah, the prime minister, criticised "negative practices" by some MPs, who devoted much of their time to questioning ministers and scoring political points "at any price".

The rally was held a day after the public prosecution released seven activists and prolonged the detention of 24 others in connection with storming the National Assembly this month.

The parliament's guards were overwhelmed by several members of parliament and their supporters at an opposition rally.

Abdulaziz Al Mutairi said his brother, Ahmed, was in custody and he had been on hunger strike with the rest of the detainees for the past four days.

He added that two people had been taken to hospital but they would all continue the strike until they were released.

"My brother is happy about all of these people turning out to protest," Mr Al Mutairi said. "We want justice.

"The government resigned to try to make this protest smaller but it didn't work."

Crowds have gathered outside the courts every night to show support for the detained men.

Opposition parliamentarians, who are immune from prosecution, claim responsibility for the invasion of parliament. They argue that those who entered the building did not cause any damage.

Abdulrahman Al Ghanim, a representative of the Kuwait Trade Union Federation, said the organisation had called for the parliament to be dissolved and an election held.

"It's time to let the people choose," he said.

Tension between the royal family-selected cabinet and the elected parliament has increased following reports that the public prosecution was probing large deposits into the bank accounts of several parliamentarians.

The opposition suspects the prime minister bought support.

Last week, a crowd of more than 8,000 gathered to show their support for the emir.

Rola Dashti, a Shiite member of parliament considered close to the executive branch, called the gathering a "slap in the face" to those who invaded the building.

Opposition groups had called on protesters to set up a permanent demonstration in the city centre until parliament's scheduled meeting today - when opposition parliamentarians planned to question Sheikh Nasser.

The emir could now select a prime minister to form a new cabinet.

Sheikh Nasser - the emir's nephew and the focal point of opposition protests - has headed seven governments since 2006.

Alternatively, the emir could dissolve parliament and call for a new election. The last one was in 2009.

Kuwait's rulers have suspended parliament for several years twice since it was established in 1962.

The last unconstitutional suspension ended after Kuwait was liberated from the Iraqi invasion in 1991.

Sami Alfaraj, the director of the Kuwait Centre for Strategic Studies, said that if the opposition and the government were like two fighters "looking at each other, eye to eye" then "the government blinked".

He added that Kuwait's leaders had an opportunity to solve the political crisis through negotiation but missed their chance and now "Kuwait is paying the price" through political instability.

Some in Kuwait believe the emir will return Sheikh Nasser to the post that he held seven times but, if he does, then "the crisis will continue", said Mr Alfaraj.

He added that Sheikh Sabah's game plan is unknown, even by those closest to him, and that "this emir is quite imaginative in getting out of trouble".

jcalderwood@thenational.ae