Opposition warns ruling strips Assembly of powers

MP Waleed Al-Tabtabai and MP Jamaan Al-Harbash

KUWAIT: The constitutional court yesterday ruled that article 16 of the National Assembly’s charter is unconstitutional, in a verdict that means unseating opposition MPs Waleed Al-Tabtabaei and Jamaan Al-Harbash. Opposition MPs described the ruling as “very dangerous”, saying it represents an interference by the court in the Assembly’s authority and called for introducing legislation to restrict the powers of the country’s highest court, whose rulings cannot be challenged.

Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem declined to comment on the ruling before receiving it through official channels, but at least 10 opposition lawmakers decided to send a letter to the Assembly to discuss the consequences of the verdict on the future of the parliament. Article 16 was used by the Assembly in October to retain the membership of Tabtabaei and Harbash even after the court of cassation sentenced them to jail for storming the Assembly building in Nov 2011.

Tabtabaei, Harbash and about a dozen former MPs and opposition activists who were convicted have left the country to avoid serving the jail terms. After the two lawmakers received the jail sentences, a constitutional controversy erupted on whether they should lose or keep their seats. The Assembly decided that it has the right to vote on the issue based on article 16 of its internal charter. It voted in favor of keeping the seats.

In its 11-page verdict, the court insisted that the voting process the Assembly undertook and its decision to keep the membership of the two lawmakers represents a “flagrant interference” in its authority. The court also said that members of the Assembly automatically lose their seats once they receive a final condemnation in a criminal case, and accordingly Tabtabaei and Harbash should have lost their seats immediately after they were sentenced.

Constitutional expert Mohammad Al-Fili said the verdict means that both Harbash and Tabtabaei have lost their seats and the Assembly must officially announce procedures for holding by-elections. Harbash warned in a tweet that the consequences of the verdict will prevent the Assembly from considering the membership of its members. He said that this would mean that the membership of MPs can be easily stripped through a governmental administrative decision without allowing the Assembly to do anything.

Following the ruling, 10 opposition MPs held an urgent meeting to discuss its impact. MP Al-Humaidi Al-Subaei said it was decided that a letter will be submitted to the Assembly to discuss the consequences of the verdict. He regretted that the verdict calls for stripping the lawmakers of their seats, adding the ruling deals a heavy blow to the Assembly’s constitutional powers and prevents it from practicing its supervisory powers, which is a very dangerous matter. MP Thamer Al-Suwait denied he has resigned from the Assembly because of the verdict, adding that the response to the ruling will be through issuing legislation to restrict the constitutional court’s powers to achieve a real separation of authorities.
A number of MPs however welcomed the verdict as a victory of the constitution, saying that the voting on the membership was unconstitutional. MP Mohammad Al-Dallal said the court was not neutral in its ruling and its verdict violates article 50 of the constitution on the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial authorities. Dallal said that the ruling deprives the Assembly from one of its powers to determine the fate of its members. He said the verdict is unconstitutional and surpasses the authority of the Assembly and interferes in its powers, and will drag the country into a political crisis.

By B Izzak