Kuwait’s Emir Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah launches amnesty process for dissidents

Kuwait’s new Emir Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah gestures as he takes the oath of office at the parliament, in Kuwait City, Kuwait.

Kuwait’s ruling emir on Wednesday paved the way for an amnesty to pardon dissidents, which has been a major condition of opposition lawmakers to end a months-long standoff with the appointed government that has held up planned fiscal reforms.

Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah tasked the parliament speaker, the prime minister and the head of the supreme judicial council to recommend the conditions and terms of the amnesty ahead of it being issued by decree, Sheikh Nawaf’s office said.

The statement by the emir’s office said the amnesty would cover “some Kuwaitis sentenced in past cases” but gave no further details. It said some 40 MPs had called for the amnesty.

The stand-off between the government and the elected parliament had paralysed legislative work, hindering efforts to boost state finances and enact measures including a debt law making it possible to tap global markets, a government priority.

Although Kuwait does not permit political parties, it has given its legislature more influence than similar bodies in other Gulf monarchies, including the power to pass and block laws, question ministers and submit no-confidence votes against senior government officials.

That gives citizens more say over how the country is run than in neighbouring autocracies, though the emir has final say in state matters. But deadlocks between the cabinet and assembly have over decades led to government reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament, hampering investment and reform.

The statement said the emir decided to use his constitutional right to issue amnesties, following talks between the government and parliament to enhance “political stability” and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches.

Dissidents in self-imposed exile include former lawmakers who took part in a 2011 storming of parliament over alleged government graft and mismanagement, and other Kuwaitis who openly criticized the emir — a jailable offence — or other Gulf rulers.

“This provides a glimmer of hope for cooperation,” opposition MP Muhannad Al-Sayer said.

He voiced hope the government would also take into account another key opposition demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah accept to be questioned in parliament, which returns from summer break on October 26.

Several lawmakers have questioned the constitutionality of a motion passed in March delaying any questioning of the premier until the end of 2022. MPs have submitted motions to question Sheikh Sabah on several issues including the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and corruption.

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