The Kuwaiti legislature is the unicameral National Assembly (Majles Al-Ummah). It currently has 65 members, including fifty who are elected for four-year terms of office and 15 cabinet ministers appointed by the Emir who sit as ex officio members. Elected officials may also serve in the cabinet, in which case the number of ex officio members is reduced accordingly.
The National Assembly debates policies and government programs and passes laws. It is also permitted to question ministers and take a vote of no confidence in individual members of the government. Withdrawal of confidence from a minister takes place by a majority vote of the members constituting the Assembly excluding ministers. The question of confidence in the prime minister may not be raised before the National Assembly. Nevertheless, if the National Assembly decides that it cannot cooperate with the prime minister, the matter is submitted to the Emir. In such a case, the Emir may either relieve the prime minister of office and appoint a new cabinet or dissolve the National Assembly.
Sessions, Dissolution, State of Exception
Regular annual parliamentary sessions are convened for no less than eight months. Every year, the Assembly meets in October at the invitation of the Emir; if the invitation is announced late, the meeting is held on the third Saturday of the month in which it is announced. Sittings of the National Assembly are public, though they may be held in secret upon the request of the government, the president of the Assembly, or ten of its members; and if the meetings are held in other places or times than assigned, their results must be canceled according to the Law. The debate on such a request is held in secret. The National Assembly is called by decree to an extraordinary session if the Emir deems it necessary, or upon the demand of the majority of the members of the Assembly. A quorum of half the members must be present for any session to continue.
The Emir opens the annual session of the National Assembly and delivers a speech reviewing the situation of the country and the important public matters from the preceding year and outlining the projects to be undertaken by the government during the coming year. The National Assembly chooses from among its members a committee to draft the reply to the Emir’s speech, which embodies the comments and wishes of the Assembly. Upon approval of the response by the Assembly, the response is submitted to the Emir.
The constitution empowers the Emir to dissolve the National Assembly by a decree, in which the reasons for dissolution are indicated. However, the dissolution of the Assembly may not be repeated for the same reasons. In the event of dissolution, elections for the new Assembly are held within two months. Otherwise, the dissolved Assembly is restored fully until the new Assembly is elected. The Emir exercised his powers dissolving the parliament 4 times since its inception in 1963. The 4 times were 1976, 1986, 1999 and May 21, 2006. The dissolution decree of 2006 was accompanied by a decree calling for new parliamentary elections on June 29, 2006.
The National Assembly elects a speaker and a deputy speaker from among its members by an absolute majority vote of the members present in the first round or, if necessary, by a relative majority in a second round of voting. The speaker has the powers to convene sessions, establish and modify the agenda, organize the debates and set speaking times, examine the admissibility of bills and amendments, refer texts to a committee for study, set up committees, decide how the vote is carried out, and cancel a vote in the event of irregularities. He can bring items outside the agenda to the floor, and thus organize impromptu debates. He draws up the budget of the Assembly, submits it to the Bureau of the National Assembly, takes part in voting, proposes bills or amendments, and intervenes in parliamentary oversight procedures. He is also consulted by the head of state prior to the appointment of the prime minister and plays a specific role in the conduct of foreign affairs and defense matters, in collaboration with the executive branch.
The Bureau of the National Assembly consists of the speaker, the deputy speaker, the secretary, the chairmen of the Legislative and Legal Affairs Committee and of the Financial and the Economic Affairs Committee. The current speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament is Jasem Mohammad Abdulmuhsen Al-Khorafi. The secretary general is Mashari Al-Anjari.
The standing orders of the Assembly procedures, its committees and the rules pertaining to discussion, voting, questions, interpellation, and all other functions are prescribed in the constitution. The standing orders specify the sanctions to be imposed on any member who violates order or absents himself from the meetings of the Assembly or the committees without a legitimate excuse.
According to article 159 of the Rule of Orders, the government draws up an annual draft budget comprising the revenue and expenditure of the state, and submits it to the National Assembly for discussion and approval, at least two months before the end of the fiscal year. According to article 171 of the Rule of Orders, The Financial Control Diwan (Audit Bureau) is attached to the National Assembly in line with article 151 of the Constitution and assists the government and the National Assembly in controlling the collection of the state revenues and the disbursement of its expenditures within the limits of the budget. The Diwan submits to both the government and the National Assembly an annual report on its activities and its observations.
Committee Structures and Membership
The National Assembly sets up committees of inquiry or delegates its members to investigate matters within its competence. Ministers and all government officials must produce testimonials, documents, and statements requested from them. The Assembly also sets up, among its annual standing committees, a special committee to deal with petitions and complaints submitted by citizens.
Legislative Drafting Processes
The constitution stipulates that no law may be promulgated unless the National Assembly passes it. The decisions of the Assembly are only valid when more than half of the members are present. If the National Assembly confirms a bill by a two-thirds majority vote, the Emir promulgates the bill. If the bill does not receive the said majority, it may not be reconsidered during the same session. If the National Assembly, in another session, passes the same bill by a majority vote, the Emir promulgates the bill as law. Promulgation of laws takes place within thirty days from the date of submission by the National Assembly to the Emir. In cases of emergency this period is reduced to seven days. Laws are published in the Official Gazette before they become effective.
The Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs oversees the activities of the parliament on behalf of the executive branch.
The Kuwaiti parliament is a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union (AIPU).