Kuwait's ruler could move to reshuffle the government or dissolve parliament in the coming days, if opposition lawmakers gather enough support for a non-cooperation motion against the Gulf Arab state's prime minister.
Prime minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah was questioned in parliament this week over an incident on 8 December, when police broke up an opposition gathering and several people were wounded.
Frequent government reshuffles, resignations and parliament dissolutions have delayed economic reform bills in the Gulf Arab state. The cabinet had to pass a $5 billion stimulus package as a by-law last year, while parliament was dissolved.
In the latest spat, the questioning happened behind closed doors, but support for a non-cooperation motion would be considered too embarrassing for Sheikh Nasser, who is also a nephew of Kuwait's ruler, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.
The motion needs a majority of at least 25 votes to pass, and is scheduled to take place on 5 January. While ministers can face no-confidence motions, non-cooperation motions apply to the prime minister.
The cabinet might opt to boycott the 5 January session when parliament is scheduled to vote on the non-cooperation motion, and leave the matter to the emir.
According to the constitution, the emir could then decide to accept the cabinet's resignation, dissolve parliament, or do both.
The government might resign or be reshuffled as in previous standoffs. The emir could appoint a new prime minister or reappoint Sheikh Nasser as prime minister and ask him to form a new government.
Although lawmakers in Kuwait's 50-member parliament have the right under the constitution to question government ministers, including the emir-appointed prime minister, it had long been considered taboo to do, partly because the prime minister had traditionally been also heir apparent. The two positions were separated in 2006.
The emir has dissolved parliament three times since he became ruler in 2006, to avert the questioning of the prime minister.
But in 2009, Sheikh Nasser became the first prime minister in the Gulf Arab state to face questioning in parliament, after surviving a non-cooperation motion.
The current cabinet is the sixth since Sheikh Nasser was first appointed as prime minister in 2006. Several ministers have been changed or resigned to avoid pressure or no-confidence votes from hostile lawmakers.
Emir Sheikh Sabah, who has the final say in politics, might dissolve the assembly and call a general election within two months.
A more dramatic measure would be to dissolve parliament and suspend the constitution, which would leave the country without an elected legislature for an unspecified period. Previous rulers suspended the constitution in 1986 and 1976.