New Kuwaiti Emir emphasizes government accountability in debut speech

Kuwait's Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah, in his first speech as Emir since the death of his predecessor last week, criticised lawmakers and the government on Wednesday for decisions he said had damaged the national interests of the U.S. allied state.

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Kuwait's new emir Sheikh Meshal al-Ahmad al-Sabah swears the constitutional oath at the National Assembly in Kuwait City, Kuwait, December 20, 2023, Kuwait News Agency/Handout via REUTERS

Sheikh Meshal, 83, castigated decisions to appoint people to positions that were “not consistent with the simplest rules of justice and fairness” and objected to pardons granted by his predecessor.

The new Emir did not say which pardons he objected to. His predecessor issued a series of amnesties, including to dissidents and critics as well as some who were sentenced for spying for Iran and Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah.

“Today, as we are going through a delicate historical stage, we must review our current reality in all its aspects, especially the security, economic and living aspects,” he said, and stressed the importance of government oversight and objective accountability.

While he had disagreed with some of the previous Emir‘s decisions, he had abided by them out of loyalty, he said in the speech that was unusually critical of the government and lawmakers for a new Emir.

Sheikh Meshal was the day-to-day ruler for much of the reign of his predecessor, half-brother Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah who died on Saturday, aged 86, due to his ill-health.

“The Emir’s speech underscored a heightened focus on strengthening governance and enhancing accountability, reflecting a deep commitment to combatting corruption in the pursuit of effective governance,” said Reconnaissance Research Chief Executive Abdulaziz Al-Anjeri.

“He straightforwardly criticized the executive and legislative bodies, signalling a willingness to undertake radical, albeit necessary, reforms.”

Kuwait, which neighbours Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, holds the world’s seventh largest oil reserves and is an OPEC member. It is a close ally of the United States, which in 1991 liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, and stations troops in the nation.

Kuwait would maintain its Gulf, regional and international commitments, Sheikh Meshal said.

Kuwaiti academic Bader Al Saif said the speech showed that existing foreign policies and an effort to drive out corruption within the government sector would be maintained by the Emir.

But it also suggested that national priorities of meeting the people’s needs, security and economy had not been properly addressed by the government or the parliament, he said.

That could lead to radical changes in the next government, after the current cabinet tendered its resignation as is custom when a new Emir assumes power, according to Al Saif.

Kuwait bans political parties and candidates run as independents, but its legislature has more influence than similar bodies in other Gulf monarchies, including the power to pass and block laws, question ministers and submit no-confidence motions.

Frequent political deadlock in Kuwait, the Gulf region’s oldest and most lively legislature, has for decades led to cabinet reshuffles and parliament dissolutions.

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