| 14 April 2024, Sunday |

Kuwait parliament passes COVID-19 relief bill after govt takes oath

KUWAIT: Kuwait’s parliament approved laws guaranteeing bank loans for businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic after the government took its oath of office on Tuesday, but rejected an amnesty pardoning people charged with storming parliament in 2011.

Dozens of demonstrators and MPs gathered outside parliament in a sign of lingering tensions after a months-long standoff between the elected assembly and the appointed premier.

Only 33 of 50 lawmakers attended the session, the number required for a quorum.

In its first session since Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah suspended it for a month, parliament passed a draft law to end pre-trial detention in freedom of speech cases and sent it for government approval, the assembly said.

In addition to approving draft bills guaranteeing local bank loans for small and medium-sized businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, it passed a law deferring loan payments for citizens for 6 months.

However, parliament rejected “in principle” proposals for an amnesty law that included pardoning people charged with storming parliament, including former parliamentarians in self-exile abroad.

Opposition figures had hoped the emir, who assumed power in September, would facilitate a political detente by pardoning dissidents.

Kuwait has the most vibrant political system among Gulf Arab states but the emir has a final say on state matters. Frequent political deadlocks have led to successive government reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament, impeding investment and reform.

After December elections, a majority of MPs backed a motion to question PM Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah on multiple issues, including his choice of ministers.

The cabinet responded by stepping down, and Sheikh Sabah named a new government this month.

Tensions remain high after Kuwait’s constitutional court this month nullified the membership of opposition MP Bader al-Dahoum. Dahoum, who was among demonstrators outside parliament, was one of 2 MPs who filed a new request to question the PM.

A government priority now is to push through a debt law allowing Kuwait to tap international markets to strengthen finances hit by low oil prices and the pandemic.

Kuwait’s parliament has the power to block legislation and question members of government, in which senior posts are held by ruling family members.

  • Reuters