Kuwait's labour minister quits under opposition pressure
KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait's minister for social affairs and labour has resigned, state news agency KUNA said on Tuesday, the second cabinet member to quit in less than a month under pressure from opposition lawmakers who want a place in government.
His departure increases the likelihood of a full cabinet reshuffle or the resignation of the government, analysts said.
Kuwait brought in its fourth government in six years after a snap parliamentary election in February but tensions between the cabinet and chamber escalated quickly, hindering economic policy-making and planning in the oil-rich Gulf state.
The opposition, mainly Islamist MPs, won a majority of seats in parliament. Relations with the cabinet, which is appointed by a prime minister hand-picked by the emir, have been rocky.
The emir accepted the resignation of Social Affairs and Labour Minister Ahmed al-Rujaib, KUNA said. Communications Minister Salim al-Utheina will take over the role on an interim basis, according to the emir's decree.
Islamist MP Faisal al-Muslim, an important figure in the opposition bloc, said the whole government should resign and allow for broader political representation in the cabinet.
"The opposition must participate in any new government," he told reporters.
The opposition should get 9 of the 15 posts in a new cabinet headed by the current prime minister, opposition MP Musallam al-Barrak said.
Opposition lawmakers failed to strike a deal with the ruling family in February for a significant share of cabinet posts. They were offered four posts out of a possible 16 following the election, but they held out for nine, scuttling any deal.
One minister in the current cabinet, Shueib Shabbab al-Muweizry, was drawn from the elected assembly, the minimum number under the constitution. He is the Minister of State for Housing Affairs and for National Assembly Affairs.
While Kuwait has one of the most democratic systems of government in the Gulf, political parties are banned and opposition politicians rely on forming blocs in parliament.
As part of their renewed pressure on the government, opposition lawmakers had planned to question Rujaib in the National Assembly next week.
They wanted to quiz him on issues including rising prices for basic goods, food quality control, the issuing of residence permits and illegal front companies. Such parliamentary grilling can end in a confidence vote that forces a minister out of office.
Finance Minister Mustapha al-Shamali quit in May after pressure from opposition lawmakers, who say they also want to question the oil minister, interior minister and defence minister over various issues.
Kuwait's stock index fell to a four-month low on Tuesday over concerns about the political outlook.
"The market doesn't like uncertainty - political uncertainty means economic uncertainty because government infrastructure spending can get put on hold," a Kuwaiti trader said.
(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall in Kuwait and Matt Smith in Dubai; Editing by Andrew Torchia and Diana Abdallah)
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