Kuwait halts parliament for month over turmoil

AP News
Posted: Jun 18, 2012 10:43 AM
Kuwait halts parliament for month over turmoil

Kuwait's political showdowns intensified Monday as the government suspended parliament for a month over an escalating feud with Islamist-led opposition lawmakers seeking a greater voice in the Gulf nation's affairs.

The suspension follows the resignations of two Cabinet ministers in less than a month under pressure from the opposition bloc, which includes conservative Islamist figures and their allies pushing for a larger share of seats in the government controlled by Kuwait's Western-backed ruling family.

It's unclear whether the parliament suspension could be a step toward a full-scale government resignation and new elections. It reflects the deep frustration by the country's rulers at the political stalemate, which has diverted attention from economic development proposals and other issues, such as simmering labor unrest in OPEC's fourth-largest oil exporter.

Kuwait has the Gulf's most politically independent parliament. It often demands to question top officials and has the ability to pass no-confidence votes to oust Cabinet officials. Tensions have flared since February elections that gave Islamists and their political backers control of the chamber.

The opposition insists they now deserve more than half the seats in the 15-member Cabinet. The bloc rejected an offer of four seats after the election.

The official Kuwait News Agency said the Cabinet approved an order by the country's ruler to suspend parliament sessions for a month. That extends into the holy month of Ramadan, an official holiday when parliament is typically shut down.

Earlier this month, Kuwait's labor minister resigned after opposition lawmakers threatened to question him on issues including rising food prices and alleged scandals over work permits. In May, the finance minister stepped down under similar pressures.

Kuwait was hit by a wave of strikes earlier this year, including walkouts that grounded the state carrier, Kuwait Airways, and temporarily closed customs posts and left hundreds trucks stranded at the border.

Calls for better working conditions have grown louder in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.

Kuwaitis are used to well-paid government jobs and cradle-to-grave benefits that increasingly have become a burden on state finances.