The Kuwaiti parliament broke up in chaos Monday when reformist MPs walked out in protest at attempts to block a redrawing of constituencies intended to counter alleged vote-buying. The reformers left the session when voting began on a motion tabled by conservative and tribal MPs that seeks to refer a government-backed bill reducing the number of constituencies from 25 to 10 to the Constitutional Court. The motion argues that the government bill breaches the constitution because it does not attach electoral weight “equally and fairly” between constituencies. Twenty-eight of parliament’s 50 MPs walked out when a government minister became the first to vote in favour of the motion.
The reformers were angered because although the bill was prepared by the government, it backed the motion to send it to the court, which they saw as an indication that the Cabinet is “not serious about reforms.” Pro-reform MPs said that referring the bill to the Constitutional Court amounted to delaying the reforms if not dropping them altogether, because court proceedings could take months or even years. Chants of “Down with the government,” “Long live Kuwait,” Nabiha khamsa…” We want five (constituencies),” came from a packed gallery as the MPs mounted the walkout. The noisy scenes, unprecedented in Kuwait, continued for several minutes as Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, his 15 Cabinet ministers and pro-government MPs sat in silence.
The reformist MPs want to go further than the government bill and slash the number of constituencies to five in a bid to fight vote-buying and other irregularities they say marred Kuwait’s last general elections in 2003. Government members and their supporters in parliament left after the opposition walkout, prompting the reformist MPs to return and demand the resignation of the Cabinet. The reformist MPs were to meet late Monday to decide their next move. There were proposals for the prime minister to be called before parliament to answer MPs’ questions or for the reformers to resign from parliament en masse.
Veteran opposition MP and three-time speaker Ahmad Al-Saadoun told reporters the solution was for the prime minister to be called to account before parliament and charged that a “clandestine government of corrupt elements is running the country.” MP Hassan Jawhar called for the Cabinet to step down.
“The Kuwaiti people have stated clearly today that this government is not credible,” he told AFP. “It had better go.”
Liberal MP Ali Al-Rashed echoed his call. “This government has effectively fallen and it should not stay one day longer,” he said.
The crowds, estimated at more than 1,000, gathered outside the chamber, emotionally greeting reformists and urging them not to budge. They carried several of them shoulder-high and chanted slogans in their support.
Parliament Speaker Jassem Al-Khorafi, who was forced to adjourn proceedings, said the session would resume on Tuesday to vote on the motion to refer the government bill to the constitutional court but the public would be excluded. Asked by reporters if Monday’s stormy session might lead to the dissolution of parliament, Khorafi said this was up to HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. But Saadoun said pro-reform MPs would make sure that crowds enter the parliament building on Tuesday. Chanting the Kuwaiti national anthem and proclaiming the ‘We Want Five’ slogan, crowds of Kuwaiti youth including men and women dressed in orange, representing a colour for the 5 constituencies, cheered and applauded while others protested as soon as counting of votes began on referring the electoral draft law to the Constitutional Court.
Al-Khorafi in a bid to order out crowds adjourned proceedings for half an hour after a group of MPs left their seats to voice protests. Thirty-three of the 65 votes called for the government’s draft law on constituencies to be put before the Constitutional Court at the start of the session. The partisan scene, however, continued to reign within the assembly as crowds began to throw orange balloons and ‘egals’ across the halls representing a spectacle of ‘mixed emotions’. MPs Mussalam Al-Barrak, Dr Nasser Al-Sane, Ahmed Al-Saadoun, Ali Al-Rashed, Daifallah Bu Ramiya and took to the Speaker’s area of the hall undertaking to stand with the public and maintain a stance of five constituencies.
“All of us want five and we stand with you,” Dr Al-Sanea said to the public, while Al Barrak asked the audience to show up for Tuesday’s session at 8 am. “If they don’t allow you in, this is our responsibility”, he told crowds. Boos were sounded across the room when Al-Khorafi entered and called for an adjournment until Tuesday. Sources told the Arab Times Tuesday’s session would be held in camera during which a vote would be held. They added the session would last only 10-15 minutes.
The day’s session was dedicated to discussing and voting on a request from the parliament’s Interior and Defense Committee to extend the time allowed for it to prepare a report on the election constituencies. The committee had complained that one day was not enough to come up with a well prepared report that could be discussed meaningfully by the MPs Al-Khorafi had earlier said in a statement. Al-Khorafi had given permission to all MPs to speak on the issue of the referral after allowing only three for and three against to do so and a few pro-referral MPs also called for redrawing the boundaries of some constituencies in light of the principles of justice and equality in the matter of geographical distribution of parliamentary seats.
MP Saleh Ashour, meanwhile spoke of three factors which he believed should be the essence of a democratic country. He asked MPs to protect the constitutional image of Kuwait and told MPs that political reform did not lie with quantity but rather quality. “Whether there are 1, 6 or 10 constituencies, political reform lay in the hands of the MPs on how to look after these constituencies and see to the country’s benefit”, he said.
He added that parliamentarians were equally responsible for the benefit of the country and if their strategies were not transparent, they would be solely liable for any corruption that might reign.
Several MPs pointed out that many constitutions, throughout the world, called for regular amending of electoral laws in light of geographical and demographic changes affecting the electorates. “Many countries in the world change the number of constituencies during particular periods,” Ashour said.
Earlier in the session, parliament rejected the report of the Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee to left the immunity of MP Saleh Ashour because of a case of press violations. 52 Nays and 12 Ayes from the 62 MPs present called for the MP’s continued immunity. Meanwhile to point out the flaws in the draft law, MPs pointed out to 16,000 registered voters represented by six MPs while other constituencies had 50,000 registered voters under four MPs. A few believed that very soon, a situation would arise when goals would be clear. “The country is not a toy in the hands of the government. Very soon we shall see who stands for reform and who stands for corruption,” MP Nasser Al Sane said.
MPs called for avoiding any issue that made some MPs look like reformers while their colleagues looked like corrupt legislators. MP Ali Al-Rashid blamed the Prime Minister and ministers who were ‘unaware of their roles’. “The problem lies with the Prime Minister,” MP Ali Al Rashid said. “The ministers don’t know their stances. What are their roles if they have to deem this matter be sent to the constitution?” he questioned. Repeating the words ‘Aib’ or shame five times to represent five constituencies, MP Mussallam Al Barrak said it was a matter of shame that the government preferred to play with the people of Kuwait.
MP Mohammed Al-Saqer pointed out to Article 81 of the draft law which needed amendment due to constitutional flaws, yet questioned the true value of constitutionalism. “We speak of the lack of constitutionalism. How many issues do we deal with constitutionally?” he asked. MP Al-Saqer spoke of the lack of respect to the will of the Kuwaiti people with regard to this issue” and “imposing itself on the majority with the NA.” MPs argued the government had plenty of time, in fact three years, to prepare itself for this draft law before declaring its innocence and referring the matter to the Constitutional Court.
Another group still accused the government of political inconsistency and expressed doubt in the government’s ability to come up with any political reform. They warned of a “tough response from the NA” in return for the government’s underestimation of the constitutional power of the National Assembly. Meanwhile, Mohammad Al Sanousi took the constitutional oath, pledging to protect the benefits of the country, at the start of the session to become the new Information Minister, taking over the post of Dr. Anas Al Rsheid who resigned May 9.
We want it five and we won’t give up on our choice, and diminishing the constituencies is our first case for the upcoming elections, and to reach our goal we have to fight the members of corruption, the members of Ahmed Al-Fahad and his followers.
The first of the leaders of corruption of future Kuwait, Jasem Al-Kharafi, has countless stances against the people, and it’s enough to say that he used the Special Forces to prevent us from entering the National Assembly. He also stood against women’s political rights. He listens to the minority and governmental bids support him.
Lacks wisdom, if he has any at all. In his first statement after the death of the previous Amir, may he rest in peace, he released a statement about the importance of the Amir’s performance of the full constitutional oath, the thing that lit the wick of the leadership transition crisis.
His membership of the assembly is for his private financial ease, and not the economy of Kuwait. He collected a large number of governmental bids that are similar to his and opposite the directions of PMs, and how he manages the Assembly sessions to serve the government.
The fall of Jasem Al-Kharafi in the upcoming elections means a lot to the journey of complete reform, and means a new and serious life to the Kuwaiti National Assembly after it lost its power with the entrance of Al-Kharafi and his leadership of the Assembly.
Last of what we heard about his position in the third constituency (Al-Qibla) is that he lost a lot of his power and some of his key electoral campaigners got him in a dilemma by moving votes from Al-Sulaibikhat to Al-Shamiya , but when they went to register it was discovered that they were militants! Also, reliable sources from inside the civil rights organization said that a large number of votes are registered to his campaign headquarter! And days will reveal the truth.
I translated this myself, with the help of an online translator.
Source in Arabic: AlOmmah.org
Together for a better future. We want it 5.
5 for the good of Kuwait.
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