* Lawmakers resign in protest at election annulment
* Parliamentarians had called for more cabinet posts
* Gulf oil exporter in political tangle, says analyst
By Mahmoud Harby
KUWAIT, June 21 (Reuters) - More than half of Kuwait’s members of parliament have resigned in protest at a court’s decision to annul an election that had given the Islamist-led opposition a majority.
The resignations deepen the political crisis in the major oil exporter which has so far avoided the widespread dissent that has ousted heads of state in some other Arab countries.
Wednesday’s ruling effectively dissolved the parliament elected in February and reinstated its predecessor, but the resignations by many lawmakers who were in the previous parliament deprives the 50-seat assembly of more than half its members, making it difficult to function.
The number of resigning lawmakers had risen by Thursday to at least 26, parliamentary sources said.
“It does us no honour to be part of the 2009 assembly which was brought down by the nation,” said Jamaan al-Harbish after Wednesday’s ruling, speaking on behalf of several lawmakers.
“We thus tender our resignations,” he added.
Some parliamentarians and analysts compared Wednesday’s court ruling to Egypt’s constitutional court’s decision to annul the Islamist-dominated parliament earlier this month.
The ruling came two days after the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, suspended parliament in an escalating dispute between the cabinet and lawmakers, a row which threatened to stall economic planning in OPEC member which is a key U.S. ally.
At the heart of the standoff, analysts and lawmakers say, was a demand to allocate up to nine cabinet seats to parliament members and further boost their voting power on critical issues.
Kuwaiti media had previously said that opposition lawmakers had been offered four posts out of a possible 16 chosen by the prime minister.
“We’re now in a tangle here,” said Abdullah al-Shayji, head of the political science department at Kuwait University.
“I think the best scenario in all this mess is to restore the parliament as ordered by the constitutional court and then go ahead and suspend it again and call for fresh elections.”
Kuwait has a more powerful and active parliament than other assemblies in the conservative Gulf Arab region. But the emir appoints the prime minister and has the authority to dissolve parliament and call new elections.
Some investors had hoped that Wednesday’s ruling would end the political deadlock between government and parliament that delayed much-needed economic reforms and held up vital development projects.
Two ministers, including the veteran finance minister, were forced to resign in less than a month after pressure by opposition lawmakers and parliament was threatening to question several more ministers, grillings that may have ended in confidence votes that could have forced them from office.
Political analyst Shayji said the previous parliament - which the court ruling reinstated - did not have the support of the majority of Kuwaitis, who used February’s election to throw out lawmakers tainted by corruption allegations.
“So if the (reinstated) parliament continues and finishes its term - which is another two years - then I think this will touch off major repercussions and the consequences would be extremely dangerous,” Shayji said.
“But if the emir goes ahead and restores the parliament and then ... dismisses it and calls for snap election, I think that would cool down a lot of frustrations and anger that today will sweep Kuwait,” he added.
Kuwait’s oil wealth and a generous welfare state had helped it avoid the “Arab Spring” protests seen elsewhere in the region. But sporadic protests have taken place in recent months, including one incident late last year when youths led by some lawmakers forced their way into parliament. (Additional reporting by Isabel Coles; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)