x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Kuwait's Prime Minister to face confidence vote

Sheikh Nasser, the prime minister,was questioned by MPs behind closed doors over financial allegations but is unlikely to lose his seat.

Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al Ahmed Al Sabah  says he is ready to be questioned over allegations, including financial irregularities.
Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al Ahmed Al Sabah says he is ready to be questioned over allegations, including financial irregularities.

KUWAIT CITY // Kuwait's national assembly will hold a vote of non-co-operation against the prime minister, Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al Ahmed al Sabah, in two weeks after MPs questioned the government's leader in parliament for the first time yesterday. The speaker of the house presented four separate requests to question ministers, including Sheikh Nasser, in the morning, and they all said they are ready. The prime minister's six-hour questioning took place behind closed doors first, and the press and public returned as the minister of public works began to face his challenger in the evening. The minister of interior and the minister of defence will also stand on the podium.

The prime minister said in a press release after the debate he believes in democracy so it is his duty to face questions. He said he thanked his fellow members of the assembly, despite the fact that some of them presented a motion of non-co-operation, adding that "the MPs showed political maturity during the debate". Sheikh Nasser is a leading member of the royal family and the emir's nephew. He has faced other attempts to question him since he was first appointed in February 2006, but the cabinet has always resigned or the emir has dissolved the parliament to stop the interpellations taking place. The prime minister, who has been reappointed five times, is trying to create stability by facing the MPs.

Another member of the royal family and cabinet minister, Sheikh Ahmed Fahad al Sabah, called the interpellation "an achievement in Kuwait's democracy" and said it will only be settled when the issue of non-co-operation is resolved. The speaker of the house, Jassem al Kharafi, confirmed to parliament that he had received the 10 signatures required to instigate a vote of non-co-operation after the closed-door session, adding that the vote will take place on December 16.

Faisal al Muslim, the Islamist MP who questioned Sheikh Nasser over the misuse of public funds and the alleged issuance of a 200,000 Kuwaiti dinars (Dh2.6 million) cheque to a former MP, thanked the prime minister for going ahead with the interpellation after the debate. Mr al Muslim said: "The questioning came as a result of bad practices in the country - All Kuwaitis should participate in the running of the country, and interpellations are a way in which to participate."

Sheikh Nasser argued that the issue of his diwan's expenses - which were under scrutiny by Mr al Muslim - has been sent to the court and should not be discussed in the assembly. He also said the cheque was issued from his personal account. Mr al Muslim confirmed he was one of the signatories of the motion of non-co-operation and declined to comment on how the prime minister handled himself in the debate. He said he would have preferred the discussion to happen in public.

Many MPs had stated their opposition to holding the prime minister's debate behind closed doors, and the Islamist MP, Waleed al Tabtabae had erupted with angry protest after the government had requested the "secret" session in the morning. Mr al Tabtabae yelled to a disconnected microphone in the chamber: "It's not fair to conduct a secret session - let the people hear what you have to say." Many members of the public began to clap and shout before the guards moved in to usher the spectators out.

The assembly then voted to hold the interpellation in private with a 40 to 23 majority, with one abstention. The populist MP Musallam al Barrak complained that the four interpellations of ministers were to be carried out consecutively. He compared it to considering four bills in parliament at the same time. Kuwait's constitution allows MPs to instigate a motion of no confidence against ministers after an interpellation, but they can only file a non-co-operation motion against the prime minister. MPs who are not in the cabinet vote on the motion after a minimum of seven days, and it passes with a majority.

If ministers lose a vote of no confidence they are automatically dismissed, but if the prime minister loses a vote of non-co-operation, the issue is referred to the emir, who must either replace the prime minister or dissolve the assembly. No minister has ever been voted out of office in Kuwait. The minister of interior, Sheikh Jaber Khaled Jaber Al Sabah, was the first royal to face a vote of no confidence earlier this year, and he survived it comfortably. The prime minister would probably receive similar support in a vote of non-co-operation, but now the emir must decide whether to risk the reputation of the prime minister - and the royal family - in the national assembly.

Kuwait will host the Gulf Co-operation Council's annual summit next week. If the emir does dissolve the parliament he could wait until after the event in order to avoid sending a dysfunctional cabinet to the meetings. jcalderwood@thenational.ae