The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Kuwait steps towards democracy

Kuwait, July 13 (Reuters): Kuwait’s emir issued a landmark decree today separating the post of Prime Minister from the crown prince for the first time since Kuwait’s 1961 independence in an apparent concession to calls for greater democracy.

Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah appointed his brother, foreign minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, as the next Prime Minister, the first person other than a crown prince to occupy the job in the oil-rich, pro-western Gulf Arab state’s history.

Both liberals and Islamists hailed the decision, which followed recent parliamentary elections, as an “essential first step” towards greater democracy.

“This is a step in the right direction and essential for reforms but it has to be followed by other important steps,” former parliamentarian, Adnan Abdulsamad, said.

With the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq in April and a US call for reform in West Asia, Kuwait’s ruling al-Sabah family has come under pressure at home and abroad to loosen its grip on government and share power.

Although the top post and other key government portfolios still remain in the ruling family, the new Prime Minister, as opposed to the crown prince, could be held accountable.

Under Kuwait’s constitution, the emir and crown prince are above rebuke.

“This is a good, bold step because it allows for greater supervision of the government,” Walid Tabtabai, an Islamist MP, said. “But we still need more to be done. The cabinet, for example, has to be suitably selected. It has to be more democratic and reflect the wish of the people.”

The new Prime Minister has until Wednesday to fill cabinet posts and seek a final approval from the emir. Members of the new government will then be sworn in before the new parliament, possibly next Saturday.

The parliament, dominated by supporters of the ruling family, has no say on the choice of ministers but, by law, at least one member of parliament should be included in the government. The previous cabinet included four MPs.

“The decree is a good one because it broke tradition. But we need more. People should take part in decision-making, allowed to take up important posts in the government. Now the ruling family has a monopoly,” Abdullah al-Nibari, former MP and pro-democracy activists, said.

Members of the al-Sabah family held all the key posts in the previous administration — as ministers of defence, interior, oil, information and foreign affairs.

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