New session, same tensions

By: Jon Nordenson

The reopening of the Kuwaiti parliament after its summer break is drawing nearer, with two rather obvious questions perhaps being how long this parliament will last, and how many interpellations it will witness? Some MPs have already announced their intentions to “grill” ministers, seemingly gearing up for some stormy political months.

To start off with the interpellations, it might be some stormy months indeed. MPs have vowed to interpellate the Minister of Public Works and State Minister for Municipal Affairs over both accusations of corruption and the Mishref sewage plant scandal, as well as the Health Minister for failing to deal with the swine flu, Furthermore, MPs Ahmad al-Saadoun and Musallam al-Barrak plan to interpellate the Prime Minister sheikh Nassir Muhammed al-Ahmad over – among other thing – the Dow Chemicals deal. Moreover, information minister sheikh Ahmad Abdallah al-Sabah has been harshly criticized by MPs for banning privately-owned Scope TV’s political satire program Sawtak Wasal. Lastly, there is the difficult issue of the tragic al-Jahra fire.

The tragic fire took place in mid-August at a wedding celebration in al-Jahra district. The women`s tent caught fire, killing more than 40 women and children, and injuring more than 60. The former wife of the groom allegedly admitted using petrol to set the tent on fire, creating the deadliest civilian disaster in modern Kuwaiti history. MPs have accused the Government of not being prepared for such scenarios, claiming fire-fighters and ambulances arrived too late. An emergency session of the Parliament to look into the incident has been proposed, but MP’s have agreed to postpone thisuntil the investigation of the fire is finished.

As I have written earlier, interpellations – especially against al-Sabah members of the cabinet – have often led to the Emir dissolving parliament in the past. Still, the last thing parliament did before they went (to London and Beirut) for their summer holidays this year was not only to witness the interpellation of interior minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Khaled Al-Sabah, but to vote on a no confidence motion against him as well. And the parliament was not dissolved. So while the numerous interpellations certainly don’t strengthen the cooperation between cabinet and parliament, they do not necessarily lead to crisis. Furthermore, the last parliamentary election in Kuwait was held only a few months ago, perhaps another reason for the cabinet, the Emir and the parliament to deal with any forthcoming interpellations without forcing upon their people yet another election.

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