Kuwait’s constitutional court ordered the country’s most outspoken opposition lawmaker expelled from parliament on Sunday, inflaming tensions between the government and legislature and revealing the limits of political freedom in the Gulf state.
The court nullified Bader al-Dahoum’s membership in the currently suspended parliament, citing an old conviction for insulting the late emir.
The decision sparked instant fury among his fellow lawmakers, given that the country’s highest appeals court had since acquitted al-Dahoum on the defamation charges, clearing the way for him to run in last year’s parliamentary elections.
Dahoum has become notorious in Kuwait for his vociferous protests against the government.
In recent weeks, the discord between the country’s elected parliament and emir-appointed Cabinet has reached a fever pitch.
While Kuwait’s parliament is a genuine representative body, which controls and restrains the autonomy of governmental decision-making, its powers remain limited.
Lawmakers can introduce legislation and interrogate ministers, though the emir retains ultimate authority and ruling family members hold senior posts.
Following lawmakers’ uproar over new ministerial appointments earlier this year, the government resigned and the emir later suspended parliament for a month starting February 18 to defuse tensions.
The deadlock has pushed oil-rich Kuwait toward its worst financial crisis in decades and impeded all efforts toward political and social reform.
As lawmakers convened to discuss next steps Sunday, distrust was running high. Lawmakers suspected political motives in the court decision, with 28 deputies demanding urgent legal changes to reduce the court’s influence over the elected parliament.
Thread: #Kuwait’s Constitutional Court nullifies Bader Al-Dahoum’s election to parliament. It deemed him ineligible to run given ‘14 conviction in defaming the late emir. Previous court rulings questioned whether legal effect of this case & gathering w/o a permit dropped or not. pic.twitter.com/IIXxTAlGCf— Bader Al-Saif بدر السيف (@bmalsaif) March 14, 2021
The move comes as opposition figures in Kuwait are feeling increasingly hemmed in amid the suspension of parliament and a nationwide coronavirus curfew that forbids residents from gathering and leaving their homes after 5pm.
The ruling “is seen as an attempt by the government to eliminate a harsh critic from the political scene,” said Kuwaiti political analyst Mohammed al-Yousef. “It’s a bad sign for how the government will deal with dissent.”
All Kuwait state TV channels relay KTV1 HD which carries a special parlament session on tribute to late Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah. Even KTV Kids. No own logos on the screen but KTV2 sports an English news ticker in addition. https://t.co/KkSHAN9t2G #telewizja pic.twitter.com/e1yIvaBJkP— Kamil is the King 👑🦅 (@arecki93) September 30, 2020
Dahoum and MP Mohammad al-Mutair recently submitted a grilling motion paper against Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Hamad al-Sabah to question the government’s “selectivity in the application of the law.”
The two deputies announced their intention to submit the motion after local newspapers reported that the interior ministry had referred dozens of citizens, including some 15 MPs, to the Public Prosecution Office for violating health measures to confront the COVID-19 pandemic during a news conference organised by the opposition earlier in March.
The expulsion of Dahoum from parliament is set to confuse the political scene and impede reconciliation efforts between the government and the opposition.
The move will also have severe political repercussions, in view of the large number of MPs and political groups who support the notorious opposition politician.
The court ruling had already been criticised by a number of MPs, with MP Hamdan al-Azmi announcing his support for the grilling motion against the prime minister presented by Dahoum and Mutair.
Deputy Abdul Karim al-Kandari said that there is need to reform the Constitutional Court’s law by amending it so as to define its powers, and pass a law that would allow challenges to court rulings, adding, “Whoever is not deterred by his conscience is deterred by laws.”
The local Al-Rai newspaper also quoted MP Abdulaziz al-Saqabi as saying, “I submitted a proposal to amend the Constitutional Court’s law so as to cancel its mandate to consider the validity of parliament membership and restore this jurisdiction to the original right holder [the Parliament). I will submit a request to speed up the amendment process and call on the deputies to sign it in order to preserve a firm constitutional principle, which is the separation of powers, which has become necessary.
On his part, MP Mubarak al-Hajraf said,“ We will restore this matter to before 1973 and this inherent jurisdiction belongs to the National Assembly. ”
In a sign of a possible parliamentary escalation against the government of Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled, MP Marzouq al-Khalifa said, “All options are on the table,” announcing an invitation “to hold an emergency meeting with the MPs to take the necessary political moves.”
It has been less than a week since the government of Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid was sworn in before the emir, who later travelled to the United States. During the swearing-in ceremony, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad called for “constructive cooperation between the legislative and executive authorities.”
The government formation process took about thirty-seven days, during which there were intensive consultations and contacts with several political actors to narrow the gap between the prime minister and MPs.
Kuwaiti sources said that when forming the new government, the prime minister took into consideration the suggestions and demands of numerous MPs to exclude certain figures from the new lineup, especially those described as a “source of aggravation.” The prime minister also reached an understanding to resolve many controversial issues, including the file of amnesty for Kuwaiti dissidents, which has been a thorny file that complicated the relationship between the opposition and the government for years, the sources added.
However, the same sources explained that it was not possible to meet all of the opposition’s requirements, which explains why a number of MPs are now pushing ahead with grilling motions against the premier and government members.
In recent months, political stability and balance between executive and legislative authorities have become key points of debate, raising many questions among the public.
Kuwaitis are increasingly concerned, experts say, about tensions on the political scene at a time when the country is facing unprecedented challenges, including the economic and social repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic and a financial crisis resulting mainly from the decline in oil prices.
Kuwaiti MPs, who are elected to four year terms, enjoy broad legislative powers and conduct fierce debates that often spark political crises.
Grilling motions and fierce debates have often brought down governments or led to the dissolution of parliament. Between 2006 and 2013, Kuwait saw ten different governments resign.
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