July 12, 2006

Kuwait parliament re-elects pro-government speaker

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait's new parliament re-elected
pro-government lawmaker Jassem al-Kharafi as speaker on
Wednesday, voting out a reformist who had led a campaign
against electoral fraud.

Kharafi, scion of one of Kuwait's biggest and wealthiest
merchant families, won 36 votes, beating veteran lawmaker and
three-times speaker Ahmed al-Saadoun who got 28 votes.

All 50 members of parliament, which is dominated by the
opposition, and the 15 members of cabinet voted in secret for
the speaker. One vote was invalid.

Some of Saadoun supporters cried foul, calling Kharafi a
"rubber stamper" and criticizing him for what they called bias
toward the government. Kharafi appears to have been supported
mainly by the cabinet members, pro-government MPs and a few
opposition members.

The opposition is a loose alliance of leftist, Islamist and
liberal groupings united by demands for political reform.

This is Kharafi's third term as speaker. In 1961, Kuwait
became the first Gulf Arab state with an elected parliament and
it has had several speakers since then.

Kharafi's election comes a day after Kuwait's cabinet
approved an election reform bill that would discourage
vote-buying by creating larger parliamentary constituencies.

The reforms, backed by Saadoun and a group of reformist
MPs, were at the core of a dispute with the government which
led to parliament's dissolution in May.

A general election on June 29 brought a majority of
powerful Islamist and reformist MPs to the assembly, which has
a history of challenging the Gulf state's government in a
region where the public rarely plays a role in political

Earlier this week, Kuwait's emir named a new cabinet,
replacing two ministers accused by opposition figures of trying
to meddle in the polls and blocking electoral reform.

The previous cabinet had proposed reducing the number of
constituencies to 10 from 25. Reformist MPs insisted there
should be just five to make vote-influencing more difficult.