Kuwait opposition grills PM in secret session


KUWAIT CITY – Kuwaiti opposition lawmakers on Tuesday began quizzing the oil-rich emirate’s prime minister behind closed doors over allegations of breaching the constitution and suppressing freedoms.
“I am ready to be questioned and I want the debate now,” Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, a senior member of the ruling family, told parliament speaker Jassem al-Khorafi as the session opened.
But the government promptly demanded the questioning be held in a secret session, which parliament approved by a vote of 36 for and 27 against, opposition MP Mussallam al-Barrak told reporters.
Barrak filed the request to quiz the premier along with two other MPs, Jamaan al-Harbash and Saleh al-Mulla. The three represent opposition liberal, Islamist and nationalist groups and are backed by at least 17 other deputies.
The move came after elite Kuwaiti forces used batons to beat up MPs and citizens at a public rally on December 8, injuring at least four lawmakers and a dozen citizens.
Opposition MPs also claim the government was plotting to amend the constitution to cut on public freedoms.
The session was being held amid heightened security measures as hundreds of police and special forces controlled all roads leading to the parliament building in Kuwait City.
Opposition MPs strongly protested, saying such measures violated the constitution which forbids any forces from coming close to parliament without the speaker’s permission.
About 200 Kuwaitis gathered outside parliament in support of the opposition, and were joined by around 500 others who had been allowed inside until the session turned secret.
They carried placards supporting the grilling and calling for an open debate. They were prevented by police from gathering in a square just opposite parliament and had to assemble just behind the huge complex.
Opposition MPs plan to file a motion of non-cooperation with the prime minister which if passed could unseat him, Barrak said. It requires the support of 25 MPs in the 50-seat house as ministers are banned from voting on the issue.
If the motion is passed, the issue is then sent to the emir who can either dismiss the prime minister or dissolve parliament and call for snap elections, according to the Kuwaiti law.
This is the second time that Sheikh Nasser, a nephew of the Gulf state ruler, has faced a grilling in parliament. In December last year, he was questioned over corruption charges and survived a non-cooperation vote.
OPEC member Kuwait was the first Arab state in the Gulf to embrace parliamentary democracy in 1962, but the system has encountered major difficulties in the past five years after Sheikh Nasser’s appointment.
During this period, the emirate which sits on 10 percent of world oil reserves has been rocked by a series of political crises that led the ruler to dissolve parliament three times, while the cabinet has resigned five times.
Kuwait has 16 cabinet ministers, including 15 who are unelected. They automatically become members of parliament and have similar voting rights as elected MPs.
The emirate sits on 10 percent of the world’s crude oil reserves and pumps 2.3 million barrels per day. It has a native population of 1.1 million besides 2.45 million foreign residents.