Posts Tagged 'Musallam al-Barak'

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.

Once again: grilling

By: Jon Nordenson

Less than a month has passed since the parliamentary elections, and barely a week since the inaugural session of the new Assembly. But still: a “grilling” request has been filed against a Sabah-member of the cabinet, this time by MPMuslim al-Barak of the Popular Action Bloc (كتلة العمل الشعبي ).

As I have written earlier, ”grilling” (interpellate, or in arabic:استجواب )is a constitutional right of Kuwaiti MPs to question cabinet ministers in parliament, and may in turn lead to a vote of no confidence. With the government wanting to avoid the humiliation of such a process, interpellations – especially when directed at cabinet members from the ruling a-Sabah family – have notoriously led to the cabinet resigning, or the Emir dissolving parliament. This, in turn, has left Kuwait in a status of permanent political crisis.

The results of the latest parliamentary election, held on May 16th, have been said to be a reaction to this crisis, with the electorate demanding stability and development rather than endless political quarrels. Still, the same electorate re-elected three of the five Islamist MPs who filed requests to interpellate ministers in the last parliament – thereby earning the nickname “crisis MPs” – as well as al-Barak, who made it perfectly clear during the election campaign that he would request to interpellate Interior Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Khaled Al-Sabah, were the Minister to be re-appointed.

True to his word, al-Barak filed the request on June 8th, accusing the Minister of “squandering public funds, failure to prevent vote-buying and ordering the installation of cameras to spy on public rallies” (Kuwait Times, June 9th 2009). The big question, then, is of course: what will the government and the Emir do?

Following the election, the Emir called for cooperation between the cabinet and the parliament, and for an end to the ongoing crisis. Still, a new cabinet was appointed that contained names bound to cause the opposite. As mentioned above, grillings against Sabah-members of the cabinet has marked a red line for previous parliaments. However, it would seem rather absurd if the government were to resign, or the parliament to be dissolved, approximately three weeks after the election. From this point of view, we might be witnessing a rather momentous challenge to Kuwait`s democratic project.

On the other hand, the “grilling” request may never go so far. The government may demand to refer the request to the constitutional court to verify whether or not it is in line with the constitution. The government may also demand that the debate in parliament on the request will be held behind closed doors.

For the moment, the request is scheduled to be debated in the parliamentary session on June 23rd. If the debate takes place, the outcome may be rather grim.