Kuwait political system unstable without reforms


Kuwait’s ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah dissolved parliament and called elections to end a protracted row tussle for power between the legislative and the cabinet that has hindered key legislation for more than two years.

That includes a key $ 5 billion stimulus package to fight the global economic downturn, which has hit Kuwait badly. Cabinet forced the measures last month through emergency legislation.

“There is a need to reform the political system,” said analyst Shafiq Ghabra. “If we couldn’t address that, what we will see is more conflict and more arguments.”

The world’s seventh-largest oil exporter was the first Gulf Arab state to adopt a constitution in 1962 and set up an elected assembly a year later, allowing more political freedom than other Gulf Arab countries ruled by families.

Deputies have strong supervising powers. They can question ministers or vote them out of office, leading to a wave of ministerial resignations in the past three years.

Kuwait maintains a ban on political parties despite calls to allow them. Analysts say the ruling family fears parties could strengthen Islamists and lead to foreign interference.

But cabinets formed by parties elected to parliament could also threaten al-Sabah family privilege. For example, they control the foreign policy of a major world oil exporter.

“Kuwait doesn’t want to allow religious parties to become political parties,” said analyst Shamlan al-Eissa. “Kuwaitis are still influenced by their tribes and religious sects, they are more loyal to them than to their country.”

The ruling family has drawn a red line at questioning its prime minister, traditionally a member of the ruling al-Sabah family.Key portfolios such as the defence, interior or foreign affairs are also usually held by ruling dynasty.

MPs operate in loose blocs, and parliament often dissolves into undisciplined chaos, with MPs changing alliances, swamping the floor with motions or pursuing vendettas with ministers.

“There is a flaw in the rule that allows any single deputy to question ministers,” said Mustapha Behbehani, a director at Gulf Consulting Co. “This needs to be regulated so that not just one deputy has the power to create a political crisis.”


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