Omar Hasan, AFP
Last updated: 15 February, 2012

Kuwaiti emir urges end to disputes

Kuwait’s emir on Wednesday called on MPs and the government to cooperate, end disputes and fend off internal and external dangers as the opposition consolidated its grip on parliament.

“Our country is facing a host of internal challenges and external dangers that are hampering progress… and stalling development,” Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah told the new parliament elected on February 2 in snap polls.

We must show “unity and cooperation to face these dangers and its evils,” said the emir, referring to ongoing turmoil in several Arab countries and a series of internal political crises which rocked the oil-rich Gulf state.

“Fending off these dangers should top your list of priorities… and preserving national unity and fighting dissent… should be your most important duty,” Sheikh Sabah told MPs.

The Islamist-led opposition scored a resounding victory, controlling a majority in the 50-member house but the new line-up announced Tuesday included only one member of the opposition and no Islamists.

This was immediately reflected when the opposition, a loose formation of Islamists, nationalists and independents, swept the election to the speaker, deputy speaker and most of the parliamentary panels.

Veteran opposition figure MP Ahmad al-Saadun, 78, was elected speaker by 38 votes against 26 for his only rival, liberal MP Mohammad al-Sager.

Under Kuwait’s unique democratic system, 15 unelected ministers from the 16-member cabinet are allowed to vote like elected MPs, which in effect raises the parliament membership to 65. One cabinet minister is an elected MP.

Saadun is the longest serving lawmaker in the Gulf state. He has been a member of parliament since 1975, winning in every parliamentary poll since then.

He has also served as speaker on three occasions.

Islamist Salafi MP Khaled al-Sultan, 74, who is the second oldest MP after Saadun, was elected his deputy. Salafists are members of an ultra-conservative branch of Islam.

Opposition MPs also swept to most of the parliamentary panels, considered as the main tools for legislation and probes.

Kuwait has been rocked by a series of political crises that led to the resignation of eight governments and the dissolution of parliament on four occasions since 2006.

This month’s elections, the fourth in less than six years, were held following protests that forced former prime minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, a nephew of the emir, to quit in November.

The emir later dissolved the previous parliament.

Recognising the growing power of youth, the emir said that he has called for a national conference to focus on the problems and explore solutions to the challenges facing the young people.

Youth groups and activists played an important role in the elections, campaigning for reformist candidates.

The new cabinet, led by Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Sabah, a senior member of the Al-Sabah ruling family, also excluded women for the first time since 2005.

Kuwait, which says it sits on 10 percent of global crude reserves, pumps about 3.0 million barrels of oil daily. It has a population of 1.17 million native Kuwaitis and 2.4 million foreign residents.