/ 24 January 2006

Kuwait’s sick emir ousted from office

Kuwait’s Parliament on Tuesday voted ailing Emir Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah out of office after barely a week in power, ending one of the gravest political crises in the oil-rich state’s history.

Sheikh Saad’s powers were transferred to the government on an interim basis after the unanimous vote, which was a first for the conservative Gulf region, speaker Jassem al-Khorafi said.

”In the absence of a crown prince, the council of ministers will exercise the functions of head of state pending the choice of an emir, under article four of the Constitution and article four of the inheritance law,” he said.

However officials have said powerful Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who has been de facto ruler for a number of years, is in line to succeed the deposed emir.

”Members of Parliament voted unanimously to remove the emir from office,” said MP Mohammad Jassem al-Saqr. A letter of abdication by Sheikh Saad was received immediately after the vote, Saqr said.

Parliament, which had initially put off the closed-door meeting to allow more time for a voluntary abdication, was summoned to discuss deposing Sheikh Saad on health grounds at the government’s request.

The move came after an 11th-hour meeting late on Monday between Sheikh Sabah and the head of the national guard, Sheikh Salem al-Ali al-Sabah, who was the main supporter of Sheikh Saad.

”Sheikh Sabah is our Emir,” Sheikh Salem said in remarks published in al-Qabas daily.

The 75-year-old Sheikh Saad, whose health has been deteriorating since he underwent colon surgery in 1997, was appointed to the post on January 15 following the death of his predecessor Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

Kuwait’s bourse made early gains on news of a settlement within the al-Sabah ruling family, with the Kuwait Stock Exchange Index increasing by 300 points, or 2,6%, in the first half hour of trading.

Sheikh Sabah, set to ascend to the throne, is a shrewd 76-year-old politician who has been running day-to-day affairs for several years due to the ill health of both the late emir, Sheikh Jaber, and the then crown prince, Sheikh Saad.

In a letter to Parliament demanding constitutional measures to oust the emir, the government said it had been ”proven to the council of ministers that His Highness Emir Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah has lost his health capability to exercise his constitutional prerogatives.”

To remove the emir, there had to be a two-thirds majority vote in the 65-member Parliament, which includes 16 Cabinet ministers.

Sheikh Sabah had the support of the overwhelming majority of the al-Sabah ruling family, the cabinet and the local media.

Sheikh Sabah had briefed senior ruling family members on Monday on government plans to seek the emir’s removal and received their support. The meeting was attended by leading figures of the al-Sabah dynasty.

Kuwait sits on 10% of the world’s proven oil reserves and has a native population of just under one million, in addition to 1,9-million foreigners.

The ruling family has experienced a number of crises in 250 years of rule but massive popular support has always ensured its survival.

The transfer of power in Kuwait has always been peaceful, with the exception of the assassination of the sixth emir Mohammad al-Sabah in 1896 after a power struggle. – AFP