KUWAIT CITY, AP – Kuwait’s Cabinet asked parliament Saturday to transfer power from the ailing new emir to the prime minister, but the emir said he wants to take the oath of office, signaling a rift inside the ruling family of this oil-rich Gulf nation.
Sheik Saad Al Abdullah Al Sabah, as the crown prince, was named the new ruler after the death last Sunday of his distant cousin, the emir, Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah.
Both the emir and crown prince had been ailing for years, and the prime minister, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, had been running the country, a major U.S. ally.
In an unprecedented move, a newspaper called Friday for the new emir to abdicate and assign his responsibilities to a member of the ruling family who “is able to carry them out.”
Also Friday, the prime minister agreed to a request by scores of ruling family members to take charge of the country because of the emir’s ill health, a decision seen as a first step to his taking over the top office.
But by Saturday, the succession was thrown into confusion.
Shortly after the speaker of the 50-seat parliament told reporters that the new emir wanted to take the oath of office, the Cabinet said it wanted to invoke the succession law to make the prime minister the ruler instead, because of the emir’s ill health.
“The Cabinet expresses its deep sorrow … over the health of his highness the emir, Sheik Saad Al Abdullah Al Sabah, and it has therefore decided to invoke constitutional procedures under article three of the 1964 succession law.”
That law stipulates that if the emir “loses the physical ability to perform his duties,” the Cabinet can take the matter to parliament, which will discuss it in a closed session.
Sheik Saad, the new emir, began suffering from a colon ailment in 1997. He has spent long periods abroad for treatment, and he was in a wheelchair at his predecessor’s funeral and in brief public appearances since.
But he has made it known he still wants to be sworn in as ruler.
“I received a letter from his highness the emir asking for a (parliamentary) session so that he can take the oath,” parliament speaker Jassem al-Kharafi said.
According to the constitution, the parliament can transfer power to the crown prince with a two-thirds vote if it is proven the emir can no longer rule. But the prime minister has not been named crown prince yet.
The new emir has a year to make that appointment.
Abdul-Rhida Asiri, a political analyst, said he expected mediation with the ruling family by Kuwaiti politicians and Gulf leaders.
Many Kuwaitis fear that the crisis could lead to polarization among citizens and politicians and affect the country’s economy.