Kuwait's ruler suspends parliament as row escalates

KUWAIT Mon Jun 18, 2012 11:21am EDT

Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah smiles during the opening session of the 23rd Arab League summit in Baghdad March 29, 2012. REUTERS/Saad Shalash

Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah smiles during the opening session of the 23rd Arab League summit in Baghdad March 29, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Saad Shalash

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KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait's ruler suspended parliament for one month on Monday as a row escalated between the cabinet and lawmakers, threatening to draw in senior ministers and stalling economic planning in the major oil producer.

The emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, can take the emergency step under the Gulf state's constitution to allow time for talks and avert a deeper crisis that could lead to the dissolution of the elected assembly.

His suspension decree, published on state news agency KUNA, comes ahead of a planned questioning session in parliament of Interior Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Hamoud al-Sabah, a royal family member, by hostile lawmakers over Kuwait's citizenship law.

The wealthy OPEC member state, a regional U.S. ally, has escaped the kind of violent anti-government protests seen elsewhere in the Middle East, but tensions have escalated between the cabinet and opposition lawmakers who push for a say in government.

Kuwait's cabinet is hand-picked by the prime minister who is appointed by the emir.

The Gulf state brought in its fourth government in six years after a snap parliamentary election in February.

But opposition lawmakers, who hold a parliamentary majority, failed to strike a deal with the ruling family in February for a significant share of cabinet posts and have since used the questioning sessions to target the government.

They were offered four posts out of a possible 16 following the election, but they held out for nine, scuttling any deal.

Political parties are banned in Kuwait so lawmakers rely on forming blocs and use such grilling sessions to pile pressure on the cabinet. They may end in confidence votes that could force ministers out of office.

CABINET MEMBERS RESIGN

Sheikh Ahmad is a member of the ruling family and one of the most powerful people in the cabinet after the prime minister.

The lawmakers had planned to question him on Tuesday about Kuwait's citizenship law and stateless residents, a sensitive topic in the Gulf state which has strict citizenship criteria.

But the cabinet agreed to a draft law "to suspend parliamentary sessions for a month starting today (Monday)", KUNA said.

Opposition lawmakers, who are mainly Islamists, are considering also calling the oil minister and defense minister, another royal family member, for questioning over different issues.

Similar infighting has already forced the resignation of two cabinet ministers in less than a month.

The minister for social affairs and labor resigned last week and the finance minister quit last month after a questioning session in parliament led by opposition lawmakers.

Analysts say opposition lawmakers are using the questioning sessions as part of their push for a place in government and a way to air long-standing grievances on issues such as immigration and graft allegations.ž

"We would usually expect the stock market to go up tomorrow in reaction to this but only for a short period because there is no serious intention of the government to reform and restructure the economic and political situation," said Naser al-Nafisi from the Al-Joman Centre, an independent economic consultancy.

(Writing by Sami Aboudi and Sylvia Westall; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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