Replacement Chaos in the Iraqi Parliament (II)
Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 15 August 2011 20:58
The recent downsizing of the Iraqi government – in itself in some ways a good move – has prompted another bout of legal chaos concerning the rules governing replacement of deputies in the country’s legislative assembly. The latest developments in the matter make up yet another threat to Iraq’s fragile constitutional order and form a depressive backdrop to today’s grim news regarding the security situation.
The facts of the matter are as follows. Ever since the downsizing of the second Maliki government came on the agenda and was carried out in late July, some voices have been calling for the restitution of the dismissed ministers as deputies in parliament (i.e. in those cases where a deputy had originally won a seat in the 2010 parliamentary elections and subsequently gave it up upon becoming promoted as minister). It should be stressed that there appears to be no legal basis for restoring the seats in this way. The relevant piece of legislation, the replacement law on deputies from 2006, merely stipulates procedures for how to replace deputies that vacate their seats and does not go into the hypothetical question of dismissed ministers returning as deputies, meaning that as far as the replacement law is concerned, once a seat has been given up it should be seen as irretrievably lost for the deputy that vacated it.
Despite these legal aspects, the calls for the ex-ministers to be allowed to return to their seats have persisted. To some extent, the intention may have been to compensate those ministers since their process of dismissal was also one hundred per cent unconstitutional. And yesterday, the so-called “consultative assembly of the state” (majlis shura al-dawla) reportedly reaffirmed the return of the dismissed ministers as parliamentary deputies, thereby providing a cover of legality to the restitution process. Some reports say that ex-ministers that had previously been deputies will be be able to choose between returning to parliament or retiring with a salary.
As an institution, the consultative assembly of the state dates back to the days of the former Baathist regime. It is a shadowy court administered by the ministry of justice and only limited information can be found about it in the public domain. In the post-2003 era it has continued to function as an administrative court in those cases where the federal supreme court has been reluctant to issue rulings, including a number of cases relating to provincial administration at the sub-governorate level. Most significantly, the supreme court has sometimes opted to transfer politically contentious cases to the consultative assembly – even in instances when the judicial arguments for doing so have been far from crystal clear.
So far the details of the rulings in this latest case have not been published. They should be, not least since the case relates to rather blunt infractions of both the constitution and the law of the land in Iraq. One potential avenue for a more public debate about these issues relates to the fact that some of the ministers involved have already been replaced by new deputies and at least some of these deputies are likely to put up a fight for their newly won seats. For example, it will be interesting to see how Abdallah al-Rashid of Iraqiyya will react if he loses his seat again after having earned it when Salah Muzahim became minister of state: Rashid had been targeted by Maliki during the post-election debate about deputy eligibility, and one cannot help wonder whether his predecessor who eventually became minister of state represented a face of Iraqiyya that was seen as more tolerable by Maliki. Also there are legal cases underway relating to the way in which the ex-Iraqiyya deputy Jamil al-Batikh was replaced by someone from Iraqiyya rather than by a candidate from his new list, White Iraqiyya, which again has emerged as more pro-Maliki than Iraqiyya itself after the two split. A State of Law candidate called Ali Abd al-Nabi al-Rubaye from Basra has also replaced the minister of state for national reconciliation, Amir al-Khuzaie; if indeed Maliki or anyone else in the State of Law coalition has played a role in providing “advice” for the consultative assembly in this case then chances are of course greater that Rubaye will go quietly.
All in all, the reluctance of the supreme court to touch this case so far is not terribly promising. It pretty much echoes the situation after the elections in 2010 when it proved similarly unable to rise above political pressures and act in a truly independent fashion.
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