Kuwait gov’t backs down after threatening lawmakers for gathering during pandemic

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Kuwait’s government backed down on Wednesday after threatening legal action this month against lawmakers from the elected parliament for violating COVID-19 rules by holding private gatherings and a press conference.

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Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah said in a statement the interior ministry had withdrawn a decision to refer members of parliament to prosecutors.

The move was a step back from a months-long standoff between the elected parliament and the appointed prime minister, which has posed a political challenge for Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who assumed power in September.

Although the emir has final say over state matters, Kuwait is the only one of the wealthy Gulf Arab monarchies to give substantial powers to an elected parliament, which can block laws and question government ministers.

After elections in December, a majority of lawmakers voted to question Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah. The cabinet responded by resigning, and Sheikh Sabah named a new cabinet this month.

On Feb. 18, the emir ordered a one-month suspension of parliament sessions. Local newspapers Al Qabas and Al Rai reported this month that the interior ministry had referred 38 members of the 50-seat parliament to prosecutors for gathering in person.

In his announcement late on Tuesday, Sheikh Sabah thanked the emir and crown prince for ordering “necessary measures to withdraw reports submitted recently by the interior ministry regarding gatherings held by parliament members that were attended by several citizens”.

The interior ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A government priority is to push through a debt law that would allow Kuwait to tap international markets to address a liquidity squeeze.

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