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Kuwait cancels parliament session after government no show

Kuwait national assembly

Speculation finance minister may step down; Row over questioning session in National Assembly; Kuwait could face deeper political crisis - analyst


May 26, 2012 9:14 by

A meeting of Kuwait’s parliament was cancelled on Wednesday when the cabinet boycotted the session after a row over plans by opposition lawmakers to quiz the embattled finance minister.


Local media and analysts say Finance Minister Mustapha al-Shamali may step down rather than face a vote of no confidence and risk triggering a deeper political crisis.


The minister was not available for comment on Wednesday when contacted by telephone, but a senior government official said Shamali would go through with the questioning session.


“Finance Minister Mustapha al-Shamali will not resign before stepping up to be interrogated,” Information Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Mubarak Al-Sabah said in comments carried online by al-Rai newspaper.


Opposition lawmakers want to quiz Shamali over alleged financial irregularities in departments he oversees. Shamali has repeatedly rejected the accusations but said he was willing to face questions according to parliamentary rules.


The cabinet walked out of Tuesday’s session, saying the current plan to question Shamali was unconstitutional because it merged two separate requests from MPs.


On Wednesday, the cabinet did not arrive for the session, signalling a rise in tensions between Kuwait’s government and parliament.


“This is a political show. If he goes through one “grilling” session, I think he will resign afterwards because it is almost certain he cannot win a confidence vote,” said Ghanim al-Najjar, political science professor at Kuwait University.


“If not there is a possibility of a snap election, this is growing by the hour,” he said.


Kuwait’s al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the ruling family, speculated in an editorial last week that Shamali may step down as finance minister as part of a cabinet reshuffle.


The major oil producer ushered in its fourth parliament in six years after a snap election in February which was triggered by another political row between the government and parliament. Opposition, mainly Islamist MPs, won a majority of seats.


Political turmoil in the Gulf state has held up decisions on large investment projects and scared away foreign investors, analysts and bankers say.


While Kuwait has one of the most democratic governing systems in the region, political parties are banned and opposition politicians instead form blocs in parliament. They put pressure on the government through such “grilling” sessions.


“Today’s session was adjourned because some Members of Parliament still insist on merging two grilling motions filed against Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Mustapha al-Shamali,” state news agency KUNA said.


Shamali, 69, has worked in Kuwait’s Finance Ministry for more than four decades. He first became finance minister in 2007 and held on to the position through several cabinet reshuffles and questioning sessions in parliament.


Kuwaiti opposition parliamentarians accused the previous administration of links to illicit financial transfers abroad in a separate political row.


A Kuwaiti judicial tribunal has cleared the most senior figure, former Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah, of any wrongdoing. A separate parliamentary inquiry is ongoing.


Sheikh Nasser’s government resigned last year following the accusations from opposition lawmakers.

(Reporting by Mahmoud Harby and Sylvia Westall; Editing by Jon Hemming)


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