KUWAIT: HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah addresses the National Assembly yesterday. – Photos by Yasser Al-Zayyat

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: The National Assembly managed to hold its crucial session yesterday with just one vote over the quorum, allowing the new Cabinet to take oath. MPs later engaged in heated exchanges and blows to cap a day of political drama. Thirty-one opposition MPs who boycotted the session described the events as a “black day in Kuwaiti democracy” and called for the ouster of HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah and Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem.

Ghanem began the session by declaring the membership of Bader Al-Dahoum, a leading opposition MP, was “null and void” based on a ruling by the constitutional court on March 14, which triggered a major political crisis. The Assembly, which met with 16 Cabinet ministers and just 18 MPs, hurriedly passed a number of populist laws with effectively no debate in an apparent bid to appease the Kuwaiti public, which has sympathized with Dahoum.

As the session went on in the chamber, opposition MPs, Dahoum and some supporters stood at the outside gate of the Assembly building and refused to attend the session. Assembly guards refused to allow Dahoum to enter into the Assembly, telling him they received instructions from Ghanem to stop him.

Dahoum was driven to the Assembly in a motorcade of supporters, which began from his residence in the south of Kuwait, to declare their support to the opposition lawmaker who was stripped of his seat by the constitutional court because he was convicted of insulting HH the Amir in 2014. Dahoum told supporters that “he will not stop fighting against corruption” from outside the National Assembly. Unconfirmed media reports said Dahoum’s brother, Mohammad, is expected to run for the seat.

The Assembly first rejected a draft law granting a general amnesty to opposition activists, a major demand of the opposition, but later passed a law to postpone repayment of bank loans for six months and a law to provide assistance to small and medium businesses harmed by the coronavirus, in addition to a law to provide financial rewards for frontline workers in the fight against the pandemic. The government had rejected all these laws in the past because of their huge cost amid a sharp drop in oil prices.

Opposition MP Osama Al-Shaheen said the government changed its mind “in order to sell the stripping off of Dahoum of his seat”. He said as a result, Dahoum has become the most expensive legislator in the world, costing the government KD 1.476 billion, the cost of the three laws. The Assembly also passed a law stipulating that people accused in cases related to expressing opinion will not be detained.

As the Assembly began to debate a grilling against the prime minister, a number of opposition lawmakers returned to the chamber and exchanged heated arguments with MPs in attendance. The exchanges developed into scuffles between several lawmakers.

The prime minister requested that grillings against him should be postponed until the end of 2022 and a vote was taken amid continued arguments. The result was declared as 29 in favor and five against. But the vote was retaken and the result was 33 out of 34.

According to the law, for a grilling to be postponed more than two weeks, the Assembly must approve it with an absolute majority of the entire Assembly membership (33 in this case) and by calling the names of MPs. The opposition said that the vote was illegal and “null and void” because it violated the constitution. Ghanem however said that it was legitimate and in line with the law.

Following the incidents, 31 opposition MPs held an emergency meeting and issued a statement in which they described the events as a “black day in the history of Kuwait’s democracy”. The statement said that the events in the chamber constituted a flagrant violation of the constitution and freedom of the people.

They strongly criticized the postponement of the grilling, which they described as unprecedented and in which the procedure of voting clearly violated the law. The statement said the lawmakers will not cooperate with the prime minister and the speaker and stressed that they must go for violating the constitution and the law. The chief of Awazem tribe Falah bin Jame said that he will no longer receive at his diwaniya MPs who attended the session.

The Assembly later agreed to cancel today’s session and set the next session after two weeks. Meanwhile, two fresh grillings were filed yesterday – the first against Health Minister Sheikh Dr Basel Al-Sabah and the other against the prime minister.