Kuwait Government Resigns Amid Growing Opposition Protests

Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah and his Cabinet resigned today, following months of protests calling for his ouster and a change of government.

State television reported the resignation after an emergency cabinet meeting chaired by Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. It was the seventh time Sheikh Nasser’s cabinet has asked or been forced to stand down since he was appointed in 2006, and each previous time he was reappointed by the Gulf nation’s ruler. The emir accepted the resignation and asked the government to stay in place until a new one is formed, state news agency Kuna reported.

“If the same prime minister is reappointed, there will be more demonstrations in the streets which will lead to social unrest,” said Ayed Al-Manna, a political analyst at Kuwait’s Public Authority for Applied Education. “We might see something similar to what has happened in other countries.” A change of premier would be “a victory for the opposition,” he said.

The standoff has put Kuwait’s semi-democratic political system under growing strain. The country’s rulers have granted more powers to elected lawmakers than other monarchs in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, without satisfying opposition groups who say they are still denied a representative role in shaping policy. Their political tussles have slowed economic growth and delayed key investment projects.

Constitutional Monarchy

Young Kuwaiti protesters cite inspiration from the Arab Spring and demand a constitutional monarchy and elected government. Others in the opposition speak of fighting corruption and call for political reform without amending the constitution.

The latest wave of demonstrations has focused on a corruption scandal involving the alleged transfer of millions of dollars into lawmakers’ bank accounts, and allegations that the prime minister transferred public funds into his foreign bank accounts. Sheikh Nasser’s government has denied the accusations.

Opposition lawmakers led a group of protesters who stormed the parliament building on Nov. 16 after clashing with riot police. Kuwaiti police on Nov. 23 began arresting activists in connection with the incident. Opposition supporters have gathered outside the Justice Palace for the last five nights to protest the detentions, while some of those detained have begun a hunger strike.

Confidence Votes

Opposition lawmakers are not among those being prosecuted, since they enjoy parliamentary immunity that requires a vote in the assembly to remove it.

Sheikh Nasser, a nephew of the emir, has survived three confidence votes in parliament since his appointment in 2006. Opposition lawmakers were preparing to question the premier in parliament tomorrow over the corruption allegations.

Parliament sessions have been canceled until a new government is formed, Speaker Jassim Al-Kharafi said today.

“The opposition wants the removal of the prime minister, and it also wants parliament dissolved and fresh elections held,” Al-Manna said. “If Sheikh Nasser is reappointed, there will be no improvement whatsoever in the situation, from the opposition’s point of view.”

Parliament was last dissolved in March 2009, the second time in a year. That came two days after the government resigned following requests by lawmakers to question the premier over the economy and his office’s expenses. Kuwait’s National Assembly has been dissolved five times since the country introduced its version of parliamentary democracy in 1962.

The emir told editors of local newspapers in a Nov. 20 meeting that parliament wouldn’t be dissolved and the prime minister and government wouldn’t be forced to resign. He also said laws will be enforced to punish those involved in the storming of the assembly.

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