Bloomberg News

Kuwait Emir Dissolves Assembly to Defuse Growing Protests

December 06, 2011

(Updates with contents of decree in second paragraph, analyst comment in fifth.)

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Kuwait’s ruler dissolved parliament and said elections should be held, after a dispute over corruption allegations sparked anti-government protests unprecedented in the Persian Gulf state.

The political tensions are obstructing Kuwait’s progress, requiring “a return to the nation to choose its representatives in order to overcome obstacles and achieve national welfare,” according to a decree issued by Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al- Jaber Al-Sabah today and cited by state news agency Kuna. It didn’t say when the vote will be held.

The move came eight days after the Cabinet, headed by Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, resigned following months of protests calling for his ouster and a change in government. Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah was appointed to replace Sheikh Nasser as premier on Nov. 30.

The standoff between Kuwait’s opposition and the government has put the political system under growing strain. Kuwait’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.

‘Upping the Ante’

“We’re now at a junction and we can’t afford to repeat the same mistakes,” said Abdullah al-Shayji, chairman of the political science department at Kuwait University. The growing youth protests are “a harbinger for upping the ante and raising the bar for the next prime minister and parliament.”

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

Some leaders of Kuwait’s opposition have focused on the fight against corruption, calling for political reform without changes to the constitution. Others, especially younger protesters who cite inspiration from the Arab Spring, are demanding more sweeping changes such as elected governments under a constitutional monarchy.

Organizers said about 50,000 people rallied on Nov. 28, hours after Sheikh Nasser’s Cabinet quit. It was the seventh time his government had volunteered or been forced to stand down since he was first appointed in 2006, and each previous time he was reappointed by the Gulf nation’s ruler.

The National Assembly has been dissolved four times since then, most recently in March 2009 when the government resigned to sidestep requests by lawmakers to question Sheikh Nasser over the economy and his office’s expenses.

“We’re being ground to a halt, we’re all completely disillusioned, and now again it’s back to the polls,” al-Shayji said in a phone interview. “The next parliament will determine where Kuwait will be heading in the next decade.”

--Editors: Ben Holland, Louis Meixler

To contact the reporters on this story: Fiona MacDonald in Kuwait at fmacdonald4@bloomberg.net; Dahlia Kholaif in Kuwait at dkholaif@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Shaji Mathew at shajimathew@bloomberg.net


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