KUWAIT CITY (AFP) – Kuwait has plunged into fresh political turmoil after opposition MPs unleashed a serious bid to unseat the oil-rich Gulf state’s premier, a senior member of the ruling family.
The emirate has been rocked by almost non-stop disputes since 2006 when Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah was appointed prime minister.
“This crisis is a part of the old and still ongoing conflict between a party that does not accept democracy in Kuwait and the pro-democracy camp,” political analyst Anwar al-Rasheed told AFP.
“But what makes it unique and dangerous is the fact that this time the government has a majority in parliament and thus can pass any legislation even if it contradicts the constitution.
“The conflict is raging around government attempts to neutralise the constitution by withdrawing key legislative and supervisory powers enjoyed by MPs,” said Rasheed.
The crisis was sparked by a police crackdown on a December 8 public gathering held by the opposition to protest an alleged government-backed plot to amend the 1962 constitution with the aim of suppressing public freedoms.
Forces used batons to beat up demonstrators, injuring at least four MPs and a dozen citizens.
“The unprecedented assault on the MPs was an attack on the Kuwaiti people (which) triggered a confrontation between the people and the government,” said Nasser al-Abdali, head of the Kuwait Society for the Advancement of Democracy.
“Any actions within the framework of the constitution are acceptable but moves outside the constitution are totally rejected. This explains the intensity of the current crisis,” said Abdali.
Opposition MPs representing the three main groupings in parliament filed a motion to quiz the premier over the clashes in a session scheduled for Tuesday.
“The parliament session… will be the most dangerous session to be seen in Kuwait,” Ahmad al-Khateeb, a respected veteran politician, wrote in the weekly Al-Taleea.
“During the session, the future of Kuwait, democracy and the constitution will be determined,” said Khateeb, who was on the committee that wrote the 1962 constitution.
Liberal MP Aseel al-Awadhi described the opposition campaign as an “intifada (uprising) to safeguard the constitution against attempts to undermine it.”
Opposition figures stress they aim to bring down the government, which they accuse of suppressing public freedoms and plotting to cut powers the constitution gives parliament.
“We will not coexist with this government under one roof,” said opposition MP Mussallam al-Barrak, declaring they are backed by 21 MPs in the 50-member parliament.
Barrak and several opposition MPs said that after the premier had been quizzed, they would file a motion of non-cooperation with him.
If passed, the issue would be referred to Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who can either dismiss the premier or dissolve parliament for fresh elections.
Since May 2006, the emir has dissolved parliament three times and fresh polls have been held while six different governments have been formed by the same prime minister.
The latest escalation comes despite a stern warning from Sheikh Sabah who took responsibility for the police crackdown, absolving his premier.
Pro-government MPs have in turn accused the opposition of challenging the Kuwaiti ruler’s authority.
“I believe this question (session) is not directed against the prime minister but the emir,” Shiite MP Hussein al-Qallaf said last week.
Another, Salwa al-Jassar, went as far as saying the “opposition was instigating civil war” by encouraging people to take to the streets.
The political upheaval has coincided with a clampdown on the media and government critics.
Two leading critics are behind bars, while Kuwait has closed the office of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera television network for covering the police’s use of force in the December 8 gathering.
The government has also sent to parliament proposals to toughen laws on punishments for the media, which MPs are to discuss at a later date.
Few believe Tuesday’s parliament session will end political strife in Kuwait, which sits on 10 percent of the world’s crude oil reserves.
“Political crises will continue in this country as long as the ruling family does not change its mentality to cope with modern-day developments and expand democracy,” Rasheed said.