Kuwait City, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Kuwaiti Information Minister Sheikh Salman Sabah Al-Salem Al-Hamoud Al-Sabah emphasized the government’s commitment to complying with the Constitutional Court’s ruling, earlier this month, to dissolve parliament. He stressed that the three branches of government are equal before the constitution, adding that the constitutional court provides oversight for decrees, at times strengthening them if necessary and at times annulling them.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, the first of it’s kind with a high ranking official following the court’s ruling, Sheikh Salman Al-Hamoud—who also doubles as Kuwait’s Minister for Youth Affairs—said that the government is comitted to implementing the decision and holding parliamentary elections, scheduled for July 27.
This interview has been edited for length.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What do you have to say about the constitutional court decision dissolving the parliament for the second time in less than a year?
Sheikh Salman Al-Hamoud Al-Sabah: This ruling strengthens the principle of a nation of institutions and the judiciary’s role as arbitrator in contentious issues. If we look closely at the ruling we will find that it represents an important principle: the constitutional court’s oversight role regarding decrees, at times strengthening them if necessary and at times annulling them. This is an important asset for the Kuwaiti people and their constitution which has more than once proven itself as the solution for Kuwaiti crises. The extent of judicial oversight shows that Kuwait is a nation of institutions in which all three branches of the government (judiciary, legislative, and executive) are equal. No single branch can overtake the other; this principle exemplifies the extent of harmony between the different branches of government. This reinforces stability and ensures the rights of all parties. The constitutional court has demonstrated its complete independence, ruling in accordance with constitutional law without any political interference. This is an important asset for Kuwait and its constitutional system.
Q: What actions will the government take to ensure that mistakes won’t be made in implementing the decision?
By scheduling new elections for July 27 the government has taken the first steps towards enforcing the June 16 decision to annul the results of last December’s parliamentary elections. The elections announcement comes within the two month period established in article 107 of the constitution. As you know, article 107 states, “The Emir may dissolve the National Assembly by a decree in which the reasons for dissolution is indicated. However, dissolution of the Assembly may not be repeated for the same reasons.”
If parliament is dissolved then new elections must be held within two months of the date of dissolution. If elections are not held in said time-frame then the dissolved parliament is restored to its full constitutional authority and meets immediately, as if the dissolution never occurred, and continues its work until a new parliament can be elected. Though this article addresses the mechanisms and time-frame for parliament dissolution, this is a new situation as it was the constitutional court that dissolved the parliament. There was some dispute in legal and constitutional opinions regarding the dates of the next elections and the two month period in which elections should be held. Does the period begin when the decision was made or its official publication in the media? Ultimately the government decided that elections will be held within two months from the decision date. Therefore the cabinet announced July 27 as the date for the forthcoming parliamentary election.
Q: In his speech following the issuance of the decision to dissolve parliament, the Emir emphasized that there are no winners or losers here, but that all of Kuwait has triumphed. What’s your view?
The timing of the Emir’s speech on the evening of the court’s decision and his expression of respect for the decision made it clear that there is no authority higher than justice. He called on everyone to put things in the proper context, encouraging the Kuwaiti people to express their differences through constitutional channels. He considers these avenues of expression an important aspect of democracy that every Kuwaiti should be proud of. Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah said we should learn a lesson from this experience. This was not a battle with a clear winner or loser; Kuwait was the real victor. He also expressed his pride in the Kuwaiti citizens who did their civic duty in expressing their opinions and beliefs. He also apologized for those who overstepped the bounds of propriety. He said that he holds no grudge or ill-will towards anyone.
This historic position is a product of our heritage and culture built upon tolerance, openness, empathy, and the unity of the government with its people. He also warned against sectarianism inciting intolerance and discord. He emphasized the need for stability to ensure growth and development and warned against the storms that are taking place around us. The Emir announced that our priorities include protecting of our nation from the dangers surrounding us. The security of Kuwait is a sacred duty that cannot be neglected. The Emir also mentioned the triumph of institutions.
I hope everyone takes note of this historic message. We must rebuild the trust between the people and constitutional institutions, the commitment to our constitution, and the stability of Kuwait to achieve its development. The Emir highlighted the Kuwaiti heritage of open dialogue, unity between the ruler and his people, and the role of the judiciary in resolving disputes.
Q: Are you expecting a higher turnout in the next elections?
Kuwait is a democratic nation. Any citizen can express his political opinion within the context of respecting the constitutions and laws. Therefore, everyone has the right to participate or boycott any election as long as they are expressing their opinion in a safe and civilized manner. Today, after the constitutional court’s ruling that established the one person one vote system, political participation is needed to strengthen stability and growth. We saw the extent of cooperation between the government and the dissolved parliament and the representatives ability to pass legislation that helped improve the legislative environment and ratified international treaties between Kuwait and other nations, something that also helped strengthen the position of Kuwait within the international community.
Everyone should remember that there are opposition forces that announced they would not participate in the elections before the ruling was announced while others have since announced a boycott, There are also parties that boycotted the previous elections that have announced that they will participate in the coming elections in accordance with the constitutional court ruling. Today, what is certain is that the constitutional court has extended its reach and supported the one vote decree which supports a democratic system, allows for better representation, and prevents any majority from taking over the parliament.
Q: What measures will the government take to ensure fairness in the coming elections?
I want to take this opportunity to reiterate that the government, despite calling for the greatest participation possible, will treat all the candidates, as well as those boycotting, equally. The government respects diversity and difference of opinion and wants to hold fair and transparent elections in accordance with international standards under the supervision of the judiciary. Our goal is to serve the people, carrying out the duties the constitution has charged us with. We will protect the interests of the citizens; it is up to them to decide. I am confident in the Kuwaiti people’s sense of duty and their reluctance to forsake the democratic process which our democratic system has tasked them with.
Q: How do you see the Kuwaiti media’s performance amidst an atmosphere charged with sectarianism and regional unrest?
The Kuwaiti media has, on more than one occasion, shown its ability to strengthen national unity. The government will not allow key elements of Kuwaiti society to be insulted. On more than one occasion I have stated that the Kuwaiti media has a unique responsibility and is an essential partner in strengthening national unity. Local media of all kinds have a historical responsibility to protect and maintain security of the nation. Our national unity cannot not be undermined by irresponsible individual behaviors. The government is always trying protect national unity which it considers vitally important.
Of course Kuwait is following the unfortunate developments in the region, but we are assured of our national unity because our society is cohesive, committed to working within a constitutional framework, and respects the principle of the nation of institutions. Any party that seeks to undermine these principles will bear full responsibility for their actions. The ministry of information will not flinch in taking sweeping measures towards anyone who threatens national unity.
Q: What do you expect in the next stage?
I am optimistic for the next stage. Our citizens are aware of their importance and the nation’s need for all their efforts to develop growth. We have passed the last stage and the our nation expects a lot from us. The next stage will centered around all parties working for Kuwaiti development under the leadership of Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed, the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmed, Prime minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak, and other members of government.