KUWAIT: MPs are involved in a brawl during a session of the National Assembly yesterday. – Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: MPs yesterday were involved in fistfights, traded jibes and insults and exchanged heated arguments during a highly-charged session that at one point turned into total chaos when guards quarreled with spectators in the jam-packed gallery. Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem accused leading opposition MP Mohammad Al-Mutair of plotting to disrupt and sabotage the session in order to make people hate democracy.

The opposition responded by blaming Ghanem of being totally responsible for what happened and accused him of committing a series of constitutional and legal blunders, saying they will not remain silent. Yesterday’s developments raised political tension in the country with unconfirmed reports that opposition lawmakers could resign en masse or the Assembly could be dissolved and snap election called. The opposition MPs however said they will be debating their options in the coming days.

The altercation took place while debating a controversial draft law calling to pardon a group of former opposition MPs and activists who were handed heavy jail terms for entering the Assembly building during an anti-corruption protest in Nov 2011. The legal and legislative committee was asked by the Assembly to prepare a report within one month on the draft law, but it added two other bills calling to also pardon Kuwaiti Shiite members of an Iran-linked cell who are in jail.

Opposition MPs protested at what they called the “illegal” procedure adopted by the committee and demanded that voting on the three draft laws be carried out separately. The Assembly agreed and as the debate was about to begin, the troubles began. Some lawmakers traded jibes and insults and threatened physical action after MP Mutair described the cell members as “traitors”, which Shiite MP Salah Khorshid did not like and he insulted Mutair.

The arguments soon developed into a quarrel that involved four lawmakers: Mutair, Khalil Abul, Faisal Al-Kandari and Khaled Al-Otaibi. MPs quickly separated them amid loud shouts by MPs and the public attending the session from the gallery. At this point, the speaker ordered the guards to expel the spectators from the gallery, during which a number of MPs claimed the guards beat up some people.

At this point, Ghanem also adjourned the session and vacated the whole Assembly chamber, including reporters. Ghanem said after the Assembly resumed the session that MPs voted on the three bills separately and rejected them. This means that the draft law for granting amnesty to the former opposition MPs who include veterans like Musallam Al-Barrak, Faisal Al-Mislem and Jamaan Al-Harbash and others, who have been living in Turkey since July 2018, has failed, and they will continue to live in exile for the time being.

Speaking to reporters after the session, Ghanem described what happened as a premeditated “theatre play”, saying MP Mutair came to the session only to disrupt procedures. “What happened was an attempt to make Kuwaiti people hate democracy,” Ghanem said. He said some of the MPs had orders from some quarters he did not name to sabotage the session. He also apologized to the crowds for being compelled to expel them from the hall.

But a statement signed by 15 opposition lawmakers accused Ghanem of “deliberately” committing “flagrant constitutional and legal mistakes” during the session, citing several examples. The lawmakers said they will not remain silent regarding the alleged attacks by Assembly guards against the public at the orders of the speaker, who failed to control the proceedings of the session and did not give MPs the opportunity to speak.

The lawmakers held the speaker fully responsible for the breaches of the constitution and violating national interests, saying they will discuss in the coming days among themselves and with their voters “appropriate political and constitutional options”. Before the drama, MPs voted with an overwhelming majority to approve a law amending the pension law, providing easier terms on loans taken by retired people. But the government did not support the law, saying its cost is too high. The Assembly is due to meet today.