KUWAIT: HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and HH the Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah receive HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah and members of his new Cabinet at Bayan Palace yesterday. — AFP

By B Izzak and Agencies

KUWAIT: HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah yesterday formed a new Cabinet that includes seven newcomers, three former ministers and only six members, including the premier himself, from the previous Cabinet. Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled and his Cabinet then took the oath of office in front of HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

HH the Amir addressed the prime minister during the ceremony, wishing him heavenly support and guidance for performing the great task, noting that the people of Kuwait “have great ambitions for fulfilling the aspired objectives” by the new government. Thanking members of the former government who had worked amid very complex circumstances, HH the Amir noted that the new government would deal with a new phase marked with challenges and tasks of equal weight that warrant extraordinary efforts and diligent and faithful work in coordination with the parliament.

HH the Amir hoped to see actions intended to attain the aspired national goals, stressing on the necessity for solidarity, coordination among the apparatuses to enhance public services and tackling of basic issues. He hoped for action aimed at boosting the state of law and institutions and “placing Kuwait’s interest above any other consideration”.

In his advice to the freshly-assigned executives, HH Sheikh Nawaf noted that running state affairs warrants serious and organized action, field follow-up, commitment to the application of law on all, “embodiment of justice and equality”, and sensible selection of leaders who are capable to promote the homeland and attain its progress and prosperity. HH the Amir, in conclusion, affirmed that he was certain that the ministers would be able to face the enormous challenges, continue to push forward the national action for reforms and development and attain the aspired national objectives.

HH the Amir is scheduled to inaugurate the new National Assembly today, with the election of the speaker and his deputy topping the agenda. Over 40 MPs from the 50-member house have openly  declared their support for Bader Al-Humaidi, a former minister, to become the new speaker to replace Marzouq Al-Ghanem, in office since 2013.

The number is well over the required 33 votes to ensure the election of Humaidi for the four-year term, but some MPs are still worried that a scenario similar to what happened four years ago could happen again. Following the general election in Nov 2016, around 28 MPs vowed at a meeting that they will not vote for Ghanem as speaker. But in the first session, Ghanem defeated two opposition candidates by a comfortable majority.

But this time, the anti-Ghanem MPs have unanimously nominated one candidate and repeatedly vowed they will ensure Humaidi’s success. They warned the government against interfering in the election.

Ghanem has not issued any statement and has not even said he will contest the post, but he can do that today. Unless at least nine MPs change their mind and all 16 members of the Cabinet vote for Ghanem, he will not be re-elected as head of the Assembly.

The new Cabinet saw the appointment of five members of the ruling family, in addition to the premier, and also saw ruling family members retaking all the so-called sovereign posts of the interior, defense and foreign affairs. It also saw the return of the Al-Salem branch of the family to the Cabinet ranks with two key posts – Sheikh Hamad Jaber Al-Ali Al-Sabah taking the defense and Sheikh Thamer Ali Al-Salem Al-Sabah taking the interior portfolios.

The ministers of foreign affairs Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Sabah, health Sheikh Dr Basel Al-Sabah, public works Rana Al-Fares and National Assembly affairs Mubarak Al-Harees retained their posts. Anas Al-Saleh was retained as Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs without the interior portfolio. Three of the new ministers, Essa Al-Kandari – minister of social affairs and Minister of Islamic affairs – Mohammad Al-Fares – oil and electricity and water – and the defense minister, have been ministers before.

The new Cabinet changed its entire economic team. Khalifa Hamada, finance ministry undersecretary, was appointed finance minister. Fares took the oil and the electricity post while newcomer Faisal Al-Medlej was appointed commerce and industry minister. Newcomers Nawaf Al-Yassin was appointed justice minister, Abdulrahman Al-Mutairi as information and youth minister, Ali Al-Mudhaf as minister of education and Abdullah Al-Marafi as minister of state for housing and services affairs. Only one woman remains in the Cabinet, down from two in the previous one, as former minister of social affairs Mariam Al-Aqeel was not retained.

“It appears to be a relatively technocratic government,” analyst Ayed Al-Manaa told AFP. Political analyst Anwar Al-Rasheed said people hope that the new government will have a different approach to managing issues, saying the old ways had led to “widespread dissatisfaction”.

Opposition MPs were not impressed and lashed out at the new Cabinet for including former interior minister Saleh, although in a new post, saying the premier failed to read the election results and vowed to explore the possibility of non-cooperation. MP Muhalhal Al-Mudhaf said the new line-up does not meet aspirations and is not in line with the huge economic, political and security challenges. “The prime minister has not read the results of the elections or he does not know political analyses,” Mudhaf said.

Prominent opposition figure MP Mohammad Al-Mutair said the new Cabinet will be debated with other lawmakers and will discuss “all constitutional options” including the repetition of what happened in 1963, when MPs refused to cooperate with the then new Cabinet, forcing it to be changed.

MP Khaled Al-Otaibi said the Cabinet has included ministers who failed in the past and who are not liked by the people. It also includes ministers who publicly opposed reforms, said Otaibi. MP Abdulkarim Al-Kandari said the basis of appointing ministers has not changed and it includes “anything but qualifications and competence”.

The first litmus test of the new political setup, in what some analysts describe as a new era, will be seen today when the new Assembly holds its opening session. HH the Amir will address the session and is expected to set guidelines for cooperation between the two authorities.

Then the Assembly will elect its speaker for the next four years. At least two MPs – Hassan Jowhar, backed by the gathering of lawmakers, and MP Ahmad Al-Shuhoumi, who expects the government’s backing, are the only candidates who have expressed their desire to contest the post. The Assembly will also elect all the permanent committees which include finance, budgets, interior and defense, health, public utilities and housing.