At first there appeared to be some good news from the Iraqi parliament today. After several attempts and much discussion, altogether 23 judges for the Iraqi court of cassation received parliamentary approval.
The cassation court vote had previously exhibited the usual problems of Iraqi politics. Sadrists had complained that some of the candidates had Baathist pasts. Iraqiyya had called for individual votes, attacking Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for attempting to impose “political” candidates through his demand for a single vote on the whole batch of candidates. Shiite alliance members had attacked the Kurds for insisting on a Kurdish quota of judges.
So when news broke today that 23 judges had been approved, it seemed to represent a positive development. Reports that a 24th judge had not been approved would seem to suggest that Iraqiyya’s call for individual votes had been respected. Early reports said as “many” as 212 MPs had been present (out of 325 deputies altogether – this pathetic figure is unfortunately above average). If true, it would have meant cross-party support for one of the main pillars of the Iraqi judiciary.
But, alas, there are some problems in the official parliament report. Attendance figures here often differ from initial reports, and today’s number is given as no more than 165. Additionally, news report suggest that the votes on the judges often split along party lines, with some votes splitting the chamber almost in half. For example, one particularly disputed judge supported by Iraqiyya and opposed by Maliki first received 71 votes (less than a majority) but then there was a second vote due to alleged technical issues where he got 99 votes.
What these numbers show above all is the continued failure of Maliki critics to get close the magical 163 mark needed to unseat him. At the same time, of course, it shows Maliki himself is far away from reaching the “political majority” alternative his allies sometimes talk about.
Perhaps the first thing all sides should address is the scandalously high number of absent deputies. Simply filling up the parliament chamber could in itself have some valuable impact on this stalemated situation.