Marc Lynch

Gause: The Kuwaiti Confidence Vote

Guest Post by F. Gregory Gause III On Wednesday, Dec. 16, the Kuwaiti parliament, for the first time in its history  held a confidence vote on the prime minister.  Shaykh Nasir al-Muhammad won the vote by a margin of 35-13, with one abstention.   This may sound like ordinary Parliamentary politics.  In Kuwait, it isn’t.  The ...

Guest Post by F. Gregory Gause III

On Wednesday, Dec. 16, the Kuwaiti parliament, for the first time in its history  held a confidence vote on the prime minister.  Shaykh Nasir al-Muhammad won the vote by a margin of 35-13, with one abstention.   This may sound like ordinary Parliamentary politics.  In Kuwait, it isn’t. 

The Kuwaiti constitution allows the legislature to declare an "inability to cooperate with the government" by a majority vote of the elected representatives.  (There are 50 elected members of the Kuwaiti parliament; government ministers also have a vote in the parliament, but not on confidence votes.)  But, in the past, when such votes were threatened the Amir either accepted the government’s resignation (usually reappointing the prime minister to form a new government) or dissolved the parliament, rather than subject a senior member of the Al Sabah family to a confidence vote.  

It was only in the last year or so that the ruling family has allowed confidence votes on its members who held ministerial positions.  The parliament can also vote no confidence in individual ministers, who must resign if they cannot get majority support of the elected members. Shaykh Jabir al-Khalid, the Interior Minister, survived such a confidence vote yesterday (Dec. 17) by a narrower majority — 26-18, with 5 abstentions.  A confidence motion on the prime minister is unprecedented. 

This is a big step in Kuwaiti politics, a confirmation of constitutional government and, one hopes, the beginning of the end of the stand-off between the legislature and the government that has led to six different governments since February 2006 and three elections since June 2006.

Who voted for the PM and who voted against?  The voting line-up is not "official," since the government insisted that the session be closed, but was reported by those in attendance.  The line up of the vote, according to al-Hayat, was as follows:  Those opposed to the prime minister were the Popular Action bloc (headed by former parliament speaker Ahmad al-Sa’dun) and the "Reform and Development" bloc, a group of independent Islamist and tribal MP’s. Standing with the PM were the liberals (except Salih al-Mulla, who abstained), the salafi Islamist bloc headed by Khalid al-Sultan, Shi’a parliamentarians and assorted tribal and independent MP’s.  All four women MP’s voted with the PM.

Why the government insisted on closing the session was not made clear; perhaps it was some vestigial worry about embarrassing the PM.  It would have been better to have the session be public, for purposes of transparency and popular involvement.  But, still, this marks an important turn in Kuwaiti politics, possibly toward more of a "constitutional monarchy" model.  The next step will be allowing a confidence motion in the prime minister when the outcome is not so easy to predict.  But this vote is certainly a step forward from the constant atmosphere of crisis, parliamentary dissolution and early election that has characterized Kuwaiti politics since the messy succession of Sabah al-Ahmad to the position of amir in January 2006.

F. Gregory Gause, III is professor of political science at the University of Vermont.  His latest book, just published, is The International Relations of the Persian Gulf (Cambridge University Press, 2010).

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