KUWAIT: Opposition MP Obaid Al-Wasmi and National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem walk hand-in-hand yesterday amid reports of an Amiri pardon of opposition figures.

By B Izzak

KUWAIT: Although no official announcement was made yesterday, several lawmakers said an Amiri order has been "officially approved" to pardon dozens of opposition figures, including former MPs who have been sentenced to final jail terms. "It has been officially agreed to issue a special pardon and details will be announced within hours," opposition MP Muhannad Al-Sayer tweeted. He provided no further details.

MP Mohammad Al-Huwaila said "an approval for pardon has been granted". "Thanks to the Amir for the pardon," wrote former MP Salem Al-Namlan, who is among the group of opposition ex-MPs living in exile in Turkey for over three years to avoid jail sentences. Several other lawmakers from the opposition and government camps confirmed the news and thanked HH the Amir, but provided no details on the numbers and identities of those to be pardoned.

The official announcement of the pardon was expected to be made late yesterday, but reports said that it could be announced today. National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem, who played a key role in reconciliation talks, declined to say if an Amiri pardon has been signed, only saying that the issue remains in the hands of HH the Amir and that it was not proper for him to make any announcement. But he said that he hoped that the Kuwaiti people will always be happy and that "we have great confidence in the Amir", adding that good news is in the pipeline.

The reports came after a majority of lawmakers signed an appeal to HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, urging him "to agree to start the first step of comprehensive national reconciliation by approving to pardon Kuwaitis convicted for expressing a political opinion or stance". The appeal, read by prominent opposition MP Obaid Al-Wasmi in the presence of Ghanem and several MPs, said a pardon will lead to permanent political stability, new political rules and constructive cooperation between all sides in parliament and outside "to open a new page for a new Kuwait".

As many as 38 MPs signed the appeal, which also secured the backing of the speaker. All 16 pro-government MPs, in addition to 22 opposition lawmakers, signed the appeal. But nine opposition MPs did not sign it, although many of them declared their support for the move.

Following the reading of the appeal, Wasmi and Ghanem were seen walking hand-in-hand with a number of other lawmakers with big smiles on their faces, something unthinkable just a couple of months ago when the opposition demanded the resignation of Ghanem as a precondition to cooperate with the government. Later, Wasmi and a number of opposition MPs sat with Ghanem in the latter's office. HH the Amir Sheikh Nawaf later yesterday received at Dar Al-Yamama Speaker Ghanem and HH the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah.

Pardoning opposition activists jailed for expressing their political opinion critical of the government has been one of the main demands of the opposition, which controls a majority of the 50-member Assembly. The government, speaker and three leading opposition MPs launched the national dialogue called by HH the Amir to resolve political disputes that have obstructed the performance of the Assembly and the government since December's polls. The Assembly has hardly held any complete session as opposition MPs boycotted sessions, especially after the Assembly decided to delay the grilling of the prime minister until the end of next year.

The pardon is expected to facilitate the return of six former opposition MPs and several activists, including ex-MPs Musallam Al-Barrak, Faisal Al-Mislem and Jamaan Al-Harbash, who left Kuwait for Turkey in the summer of 2018 to escape serving jail terms passed over the storming of the National Assembly building following an anti-corruption protest in 2011.

The pardon is also expected to include dozens of activists who are in jail or facing jail terms for criticizing HH the Amir, which is prohibited under Kuwaiti law. Lawmakers and activists hailed the reported pardon and thanked HH the Amir, calling him the "Amir of Pardon". Islamist MP Abdulaziz Al-Saqabi said the pardon gives hope for a new era in Kuwait, while MP Sayer said it will be key to all other reforms. Opposition MP Abdulkarim Al-Kandari said "it is a gracious pardon from an honorable Amir". MP Hamad Al-Matar said it will strengthen national unity and lead to a new phase for Kuwait based on tolerance and brotherhood.