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Half of the Maliki Bloc Reportedly Stays away from Budget Session in the Iraqi Parliament

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 1 April 2014 3:06

Until now the struggle over the 2014 Iraqi budget has mainly shaped up as a conflict between the central government and the Kurds. The Shiite parties have generally supported PM Maliki, with the Sunni Nujayfi bloc forming the main support for the Kurds outside their own parties.

For this reason, it had been expected that the second reading of the budget bill would pass on Sunday. Prior to the scheduled session, MPs from most of the Shiite blocs had vowed to be present and make sure the budget bill made the necessary progress. However, in the event no parliament meeting took place because no quorum was achieved.

How could that happen? The Shiite parties alone account for around 159 MPs and are thus very near to constituting a quorum (163) on their own. It is also clear that a number of Sunni and secular MPs outside the Nujayfi bloc – Ahmad al-Jibburi of the Wataniyun being a case in point – have been attending, meaning that some of the explanation must lie within the Shiite bloc itself.

In a remarkable press statement, Baqir al-Zubaydi of the ISCI bloc in parliament has claimed that the reason quorum was not achieved on Sunday was the large number of absent MPs from the Sadrist and State of Law blocs. Claiming that all of ISCI was present, Zubaydi says that altogether 147 deputies attended, missing the quorum by 16. Other sources say only 48 of the around 90 State of Law deputies attended – around half of the bloc. Similar percentages of absentees were reported for the Sadrists whereas it was claimed that Badr showed up in full force alongside their former ISCI allies.

So far, the State of Law deputies have been in the forefront in calling for the annual budget to be passed. The reported number of absentees is larger than what can plausibly be reduced to practical and logistical problems, even by Iraqi standards. With the electoral campaign ahead of the 30 April elections starting this week (and the conflict over IHEC reportedly solved after Nujayfi backtracked from his original position), they may have some major explaining to do to their electorates if they continue to stay away from parliament in the way claimed by their political opponents.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

One Month ahead of the 30 April Iraq Vote, an Electoral Commission Showdown

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 23:55

On Tuesday, the members of the Iraqi electoral commission IHEC collectively presented their resignations to the head of the commission. If the mass resignation becomes effective, it will leave Iraq without the required institutional framework to carry out parliamentary elections scheduled for 30 April.

First a word on the legal aspects of the resignations. It has been suggested by both Sadrists and ISCI leader Ammar al-Hakim that the resignations are subject to approval by the Iraqi parliament. This view does not seem to square with law no. 11 from 2007 that regulates the work of the commission. In article 6, first, it is stipulated that the membership of commissioners can be terminated upon presentation of a resignation according to the bylaws of the commission. There is no mention of parliament at all. The bylaws of IHEC, adopted in 2013 (PDF here, starts on p. 21), stipulate that any member can present their resignation to the commission and that it will become effective after 30 days unless other action is taken. The collective resignation presented to the head of the commission does seem somewhat unorthodox in that respect, but there seems to be no doubt that legally the matter remains within the commission itself.

As for the substantive context, it is fairly clear that the resignation of the IHEC members comes as a response to the latest legislative action by the Iraqi parliament. This aimed at enshrining a particular interpretation of the Iraqi election’s law concept of “good conduct” as a criterion for election candidacies. Specifically, through its focus on the presumption of innocence parliament effectively negated IHEC’s past practice of using multiple legal charges against an individual (without conviction) as basis for banning them from standing in elections. Of course, to what extent it is within the power of the Iraqi parliament to adopt a simple “decision” in order to rectify the vagueness of its own past legislative efforts is open to debate. In the past, such decisions have materialized from time to time, for example in December 2009 when it was used to enshrine the exact distribution of seats between provinces (conversely, in November 2013 when the new election law was passed, an attachment to the law itself stipulated the seat distribution). Conceivably, a more correct (but more time-consuming) method for challenging what is  perceived as IHEC highhandedness in banning election candidates would be to complain the procedures to the administrative court (rather than the supreme court), which deals with the application of laws in force, and which could in theory address the methods used to determine what constitutes “good conduct”.

In any case, the comparable parliament “decision” from 2009 on seat distribution was adhered to, of course, not least because it reflected a consensus that had emerged after months of parliamentary wrangling.  This time things are very different. It is fairly clear that the parliament action to define “good conduct” was taken by enemies of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in parliament (chiefly the bloc of parliament speaker Nujayfi along with some Shiite discontent support) who were concerned about possible collusion between the PM and the Iraqi judiciary in excluding political enemies from the next elections. For his part, Maliki has responded to the parliamentary move by questioning its legal status, describing it as an “incomplete” legislative act, thereby evoking past supreme court rulings that basically stipulate that every legislative act in Iraq should pass through the cabinet before becoming law. Reflecting the changing political colour of the commission seated in September 2012, thought to be more favourable to Maliki than the previous one, IHEC has implicitly come out on the side of Maliki in this debate. (Possibly due to laziness, some pundits have construed the current conflict as a case of IHEC standing up against Maliki: They should carefully study the chronology of events and how the recent parliament decision immediately prompted an IHEC escalation, as well as this interview with one of the commission members, which at one point goes far in criticising parliament interference with the electoral judicial panel).

The decision by parliament itself should be appealable to the federal supreme court as a matter of constitutional interpretation. Indeed, if Maliki wants to avoid speculation that he is sincere about having elections on time, he should probably file such a complaint in any case.

In all of this is it is noteworthy how the battle lines have changed somewhat from 2010, when there was also a pre-election struggle related to candidacy qualifications. Back then, the struggle related to de-Baathifcation, and the tension increasingly took on a sectarian nature. So far, despite heightened sectarian tension regionally, de-Baathification has been in the background this year, with the MPs complaining about exclusion from the upcoming elections representing both Sunni and Shiite-leaning political parties. But the elections lists must be published soon if there is to be any time left for campaigning, and there could of course be surprises hidden in them.

All in all, Iraq is beginning to look dysfunctional. The president is incapacitated, the annual budget has not been passed, and now the threatened IHEC resignation. And yet there is something quintessentially Iraqi about resignation threats – a staple of Iraqi politics since the days of the British mandate. It will be remembered that half of the Sunni and secular politicians in parliament recently threatened to resign without following through. There may still be possibilities for compromises ahead of 30 April, but time is fast running out.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Iraqi Parliament Completes the First Reading of the 2014 Annual Budget

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 17 March 2014 14:23

In a significant move, the Iraqi parliament has completed the first passage of the 2014 annual budget despite boycotts by the Kurds and the Mutahhidun bloc loyal to the parliament speaker, Usama al-Nujayfi.

The sheer arithmetic behind the successful quorum at Sunday’s session speaks volumes about shifting political winds in Iraq ahead of the 30 April parliament elections. In order to go ahead with the first reading, 163 MPs needed to be present to reach the legal minimum requirement for taking parliamentary action. According to the official parliament record, 164 deputies attended. In the context of boycotts by Kurds and Mutahhidun alike, this is a remarkable achievement. It means, firstly, that the Shia bloc in parliament is exhibiting internal discipline at a level not seen since 2005. Altogether the three main Shiite factions – State of Law, Muwatin and the Sadrists – command around 161 deputy votes. The numbers suggest that despite internal turmoil among the Sadrists (or because of it?) a majority of these deputies will have been present during the budget reading. Whereas previous occasions involving Kurdish opposition to Maliki have seen widespread ISCI solidarity with the Kurds, no such major Shiite challenge to Maliki appears to have materialized this time around. But beyond this, importantly, there must have been some MPs from the Sunni and secular camps attending as well. The numbers don’t lie: even on a good day, there are no more than aroundd 160 Shiite Islamist MPs, and most of the handful of minority MPs from small non-Muslim groups and ethnic micro-minorities are loyal to the Kurds. Accordingly, in the context of continued criticism of PM Maliki by Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi, it makes sense to assume that at least some of the breakaway elements of Iraqiyya that materialized in 2012 were present to secure the necessary quorum.

Substantially speaking, the conflict involves primarily Kurdish opposition to proposed measures of control regarding oil export from the Kurdish areas. For their part, the Sunni Mutahiddun appear to be boycotting more out of personal opposition to Maliki than a coherent anti-centralism agenda (although the tendency in the latter direction is more pronounced today than it was a couple of years ago). It is interesting that Maliki is using the issue of the budget and the question of Kurdish oil exports to mobilize popular opinion ahead of the elections. This is unprecedented: In 2010, neither the question of Kirkuk nor the budget tension was brought to the fore in a big way. At the same time, when seen within the context of the election campaign more generally, this is Shia chauvinism within a shell of Iraqi nationalism, quite different, for example, from the 22 July movement of 2008 focused on representation issues in the Kirkuk provincial council. Alongside assertiveness on the part of the central government in oil issues comes new governorate proposals clearly speaking to Shia Turkmen minorities, as well as the cabinet’s recent passage of retrograde Shia personal status law that would enable underage marriage – an apparent concession by Maliki to hardliners in the Fadila party ahead of the elections.

Still, this is only the first reading of the budget. Parliament speaker Nujayfi will be able to stage filibuster-like obstacles to delay the second reading and the decisive vote. It is however noteworthy that Nujayfi himself chose to be present and chair the budget first reading on Sunday, quite despite his own bloc’s boycott.

Three further parliament meetings are scheduled for this week. For now, the second budget reading is not on the agenda.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Oil in Iraq, UIA dynamics, Uncategorized | Comments Off

The Iraq Elections Commission Assigns Electoral Ticket Numbers

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 11:26

The Iraqi electoral commission (IHEC) today held a lottery for electoral ticket numbers for the upcoming 30 April parliamentary elections. Although a rough picture of the coalition-forming process has been in the public domain for some time, the information released today provides the first official confirmation of the electoral alliances that have been approved for participation in the election, following certification of individual entities towards the end of last year.

It should be noted that at the time of writing, the complete and official list of approved coalitions itself had not been published by IHEC, and that the following discussion is based on reports about the election list numbers as reported by the Iraqi press. However, the picture that emerges is consistent enough. Generally speaking, it is a story of fragmentation in all political camps. For example, the idea of a pan-Shiite list has hardly been on the agenda this year. Instead, all the major players run separately: Maliki’s State of Law (list 277), Hakim’s Muwatin (273), Sadr’s Ahrar (214), Fadila (219) and Jaafari’s Islah (205). A possible caveat concerns the Shiite-minority governorates (Salahaddin, Nineveh, Diyala). Lists sounding like variations of the Watani alliance of Shiites in parliament appear in all these places, and it could be pan-Shiite lists on the pattern seen in last year’s local elections. Confirmation of this must await release of the comprehensive IHEC coalition list, and possibly even the candidate lists themselves, expected in February/March.

Similarly, what was once the secular and increasingly Sunni-backed Iraqiyya has now fragmented into a number of factions. Parliament speaker Nujayfi’s Mutahhidun got list number 259; Allawi’s list now just called Wataniyya or “nationalism” got number 239; the Arab Iraqiyya bloc of deputy PM Mutlak got number 255.

With regard to the Kurds, the situation is slightly confused because both political entity numbers and coalition numbers have been published. Of these, there is little doubt that Goran and the Islamists will run separately, but the rationale for publishing the entity numbers for KDP and PUK alongside various coalition numbers is not clear. Again, it is possibly better to await publication of the candidate lists to see what sort of alliances the Kurds are running within the KRG and in Kurdish-populated areas outside the KRG respectively.

For the time being, the information available is too sketchy to make very firm conclusions about the overall direction of the upcoming elections. For example, candidate lists are needed to determine whether all Shiite parties are joining a common sectarian ticket in places like Salahaddin and Nineveh, or whether just a few take part. Instead, ongoing developments in the Iraqi parliamentary debate may perhaps provide some clues. Firstly, the recent announcements of new provinces in Nineveh and Salahaddin catering at least to some extent to Shiite Turkmen audiences could be a suggestion about a move towards a more sectarian electoral climate. On the other hand, attempts to create a parliamentary oversight committee to supervise the election commission itself have been spearheaded by Sadrists and Kurds, with Muwatin and State of Law resisting (and successfully defeating the motion). Whether the Hakim-Maliki relationship is still salvageable remains to be seen, but given the amount of fragmentation seen today it seems fairly clear that these elections are unlikely to produce a  clear single winner. We are thus left with a situation in which post-election coalition building and maneuvering may prove as important for the final outcome as the elections themselves.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | Comments Off

The Iraqi Cabinet Decides to Form Three New Governorates

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 22 January 2014 1:44

The Iraqi cabinet made big headlines today with a shock decision to form three brand new provinces. Supposedly, there will be new governorates in Tuz Khormato (a Turkmen-dominated area currently in Salahaddin province), the Nineveh plains (a Christian-dominated part of Nineveh province) and Falluja (centre of the current Sunni-led uprising in Anbar province). With a recent decision to create Halabja as a separate governorate in Kurdistan, some observers declared that Iraq all of a sudden has 22 provinces, after decades of relative administrative stability in 18 governorates since the early 1970s.

It is not like the inhabitants of Falluja, Tuz and the Nineveh plains will feel any major changes related to administrative status when they wake up tomorrow. Some of the uncertainty regarding the new move of the Iraqi government can be glimpsed from the language of the cabinet decision itself: The agreement on the formation of these new decisions was made “in principle”, to be completed after the necessary formalities “had been completed”. Those formalities were not detailed: A special committee including members of the ministries of justice and municipalities will look into the “standards and procedures” necessary to complete the transformation.

This ambiguous choice of language in turn reflects wider legal uncertainties regarding any decision to form new provinces. In theory, despite the absence of any constitutional reference to administrative boundary changes, after 2003 such administrative changes were governed by a Baathist-era law, law no. 159 from 1969, which vested the power to change administrative boundaries in cabinet. However, the anachronistic nature of that procedure is attested to by a requirement that “the revolutionary council” approved the measure – an institution that Iraq now thankfully lacks. In any case, in 2008 a new provincial powers law specifically replaced the old provinces law (and repealed it), but it failed to make provision for new administrative boundary changes, meaning there is currently no detailed Iraqi legislation dealing with the subject of the creation of new provinces. That’s the ironic reality of the new Iraq: Whereas elaborate measures exist for the creation of new federal regions, no special provisions for the creation of new governorates exist.

Of course, the absence of a law does not necessarily mean decisions on these matters are off limits to the current Iraqi government. However, in a democracy there will be an expectation that such momentous decisions regarding the administrative structure of a country are governed by laws. Indeed, the recent Iraqi cabinet decision to transform Halabja in Kurdistan to a governorate was accompanied by comments to the effect that a law was expected to be sent to parliament for approval, the lack of relevant formal mechanisms notwithstanding. But whereas the submission to cabinet of a separate Halabja governorate project reflected longstanding internal Kurdish debate on the issue (and eventually a modicum of consensus), no such consensus is known to prevail regarding these three latest would-be provinces.

In sum, such is the uncertainty connected to today’s decision that it is tempting to view it as mainly empty rhetoric calculated to create happiness in particular political circles prior to Iraq’s 30 April parliamentary elections. The question then is what those interested political circles would be. In the case of Tuz and the Nineveh plains (Tall Kayf) one obvious answer would be minority groups in those areas that have long advocated autonomy – Turkmens and Christians respectively. Some view these projects as antidotes to Kurdish expansionism and potential annexation (either through article 140 on disputed territories or the Talabani project to change administrative boundaries back to pre-Baath conditions). It has therefore been suggested that the cabinet move today was an anti-Kurdish project, with Falluja thrown in as a new governorate simply in a rather strained attempt at mollifying Sunni Arab opinion. It would certainly look rather asymmetrical with a small Falluja governorate carved out from the vast Anbar – a hark back to the special administrative provinces seen in particularly ungovernable parts of the Ottoman Empire!

Since the early 1970s, Iraq has experienced relative stability in its administrative map with minor changes to the administrative boundaries of the 18 provinces. If actually granted governorate status, these new entities could soon apply for status as federal regions – something which the proponents of the Nineveh plains unit have long hinted at. It would open the path for similar demands from oil-rich districts in the south who have long felt marginalized within the governorates of which they currently form, including Zubayr and Qurna in Basra. If Falluja can be a governorate, why shouldn’t they claim the same status, with similar population numbers and vast energy resources?

Of course, the Maliki government is not known to be in favour of this kind of large-scale territorial fragmentation. Nonetheless, we now have yet another fictional act of state affecting centre-periphery relations in the new Iraq: The three projected new governorates come on top of a theoretical right for forming federal regions that is always rejected in practice, and a revised and very permissive law on provincial powers that  few think can work in practice.

For the time being, the Maliki government may feel safe that it can play with words in centre–periphery relations without having to face the consequences. In the long run, however, the increasing gap between rhetoric and practice – and between public expectations and the state’s capacity to deliver – may form a contributing factor to a more radical political climate in Iraq.

*Postscript: The changes above are contained in conclusion number 2 from the Iraqi cabinet meeting on 21 January. However, hidden away further down in conclusion number 4 is also mention of a law project to transform the largely Turkmen Tall Afar area of Nineveh to a governorate, and to send this law to parliament for approval. That does seem to indicate plans for altogether four new provinces. Tall Afar has apparently reached a more mature stage of progress towards governorate status. It is also clear that the Iraqi government believes it can send laws for changes of borders of individual governorates to parliament, quite without there being a more elaborate legal framework for such administrative changes in place. The cabinet can also probably rest assured that parliament is unlikely to approve these measures.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Iraq - regionalism - general, Iraqi constitutional issues, Kirkuk and Disputed Territories, Uncategorized | Comments Off

44 Iraqi MPs Resign: Who Are They, and What Are the Consequences?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 31 December 2013 16:05

Following the recent political crisis in Iraq involving the arrest of a prominent Sunni MP from Anbar, 44 Iraqi MPs resigned yesterday in protest. Media seemed content to dwell on their numbers and their Sunni sectarian identity, but questions remain regarding their backgrounds, political affiliations and not least the consequences of their resignations.

Regarding the identities of the resigned MPs, the question can be resolved quite easily. Some media claimed that they all belonged to the bloc of parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi, but that couldn’t be true since Nujayfi does not control that kind of number of deputies on his own. Thankfully, though, a website affiliated with his bloc has released the names of the resigned MPs. This makes it possible to collate their names with their political sub-entities within the secular-Sunni Iraqiyya coalition in the Iraqi parliament, as well as the governorates they represent.

It should be stressed that the list of resigned MPs is probably based on a statement of Zafir al-Ani as it was delivered, because it contains some obvious misspellings of names and makes it quite impossible to verify the identity of a handful of resigned deputies. Nonetheless, the patterns that do emerge are clear enough.

Hashemi

Nujayfi

Karbuli

Ani

Mutlak

Allawi

Iraqi

Islamic Party

Unity of Iraq

Other

?

Nineveh

5

1

1

1

2

10

Diyala

2

1

1

1

1

6

Salahaddin

2

2

4

Baghdad

2

1

4

1

1

1

1

1

12

Anbar

2

2

1

1

1

1

8

 Unknown

4

4

4

8

6

3

3

3

5

1

2

5

44

***

In the list above, the category “other” includes a Turkmen representative as well as the reported shock resignation of Hajim al-Hasani, who was given his “compensation” seat in parliament as the Sunni face of the State of Law bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Those listed as “Allawi” tend to state their affiliation as being with the Harakat al-Iraqiyya created in 2009 rather than the older Wifaq sub-bloc of Allawi.

From this rough calculation, a somewhat more even distribution of resigned Iraqiyya MPs emerges. Parliament speaker Nujayfi still has the lion’s share of resigned MPs, but a considerable number of Hall deputies (Karbuli) – from Baghdad in particular – have also resigned. Pretty much all of the Iraqi Islamic Party has resigned, signifying their growing conflict with Maliki over the past few years.

Politically speaking, it must be bad for Maliki that so much of the Karbuli faction has resigned. Back in 2012, following the conflict over Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi (who also resigned formally yesterday, at long last), there were signs they were ready to cooperate with Maliki. He didn’t really seem to respond, and today what remains of Iraqiyya in parliament are largely people close to Ayyad Allawi, who are even less likely to cooperate with him.

That said, the question of the consequences of these resignations need not be as dramatic as one would first think. It is noteworthy that the question of resignation of MPs is governed by the law on deputy replacement from 2007, rather than by parliament bylaws. That law says parliament must approve the resignation of deputies if they resign of their own free will.

To some extent, this may all be a pre-election stunt by deputies who realized they might lose their seats unless they improved their popular image. Still, the Iraqi parliament has to pass the 2014 budget before the April elections. It may still be able to get the quorum to do so without the resigned 44, though Maliki will now be more reliant on cooperation with the Kurds than before. It is also possible that some Sunni MPs will chose to remain active in parliament even in the polarized political climate of the day. On the pattern of the governorate council in Anbar – whose members continue to work with Maliki against movements they see as too extreme – they may realize that there are still Sunni Iraqis who are not particularly attracted to the radical rhetoric emerging from all sorts of pan-Islamic movements in neighbouring Syria.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Iraqi Elections Commission Publishes the List of Political Entities for the 2014 Parliamentary Elections

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 20 November 2013 19:35

Coinciding with the expiry of the extended deadline for registering political entities for the April 2014 parliamentary elections (and following approval of changes to the electoral system), a list of 142 entities certified by the Iraqi elections commission so far was released today. It is possible that there will be last minute additions, but most of the big players are included, suggesting the list gives a good picture of the parties that will take part in the elections.  That being said, one should perhaps not look to this list with too much in the way of expectations about answers to what the political landscape will be like in the next general elections in Iraq. During the run-up to the previous elections in March 2010, it became clear that it was the subsequent announcement of coalitions – expected to take place in December this year – that proved significant as a harbinger of the electoral frontlines.

Nonetheless, it is worth taking a closer look at this material. Starting with the Shiite Islamists, all the big parties are in there, and there is also evidence of the persistence of some of the internal subdivisions within the State of Law alliance that came to the fore in the local elections this year. Thus, firstly there are Ahrar (Sadrists), Risaliyun (Shahmani), Fadila, Badr, Hizbollah in Iraq (Sari), Muwatin (ISCI), Iraq National Congress (Chalabi), Muwafaq al-Rubayie, Daawa (Tanzim al-Dakhil), Daawa (Maliki), Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq), Daawa (Haraka), Independents (Shahristani), as well as State of Law somewhat incongruously registered as an “entity” in the name of Haydar al-Abbadi (the same thing happened before the local elections and it is a little unclear why they are registering the coalition as a party). Independent Sabah al- Saadi, formerly of Fadila and with notoriety for his battle with PM Maliki, has his own party; the Shaykhi subsect of Basra is also running an entity of their own (Amir al-Fayiz). And then there are small parties of people with ties to State of Law: Ali al-Dabbagh, Shirwan al-Waeli and Haytham al-Jibburi. Some of these managed to win seats in the local elections in April. By continuing to exist as recognizable entities, they also signify potential centres of gravity catering for the same electorate that Maliki has appealed to in the past. Finally, two ministers considered close to Maliki that are running separate parties may perhaps be considered in a different light since they appeal to voters outside the Shiite Islamist base of Maliki. They are Sadun al-Dulaymi (Sunni Arab) and Turhan al-Mufti (Turkmen).

Turning to the secular-Sunni circles that in the past have been associated with Iraqiyya, an even greater degree of formal fragmentation can be seen. There is no entity called Iraqiyya as such. What was formerly Wifaq of Ayyad Allawi is now registered under the name of Nationalism (Al-Wataniya). Then there is the Mutahiddun list of parliament speaker Nujayfi , the Future party of Dhafir al-Ani, the small party of Hussein al-Shaalan, as well as a flurry of small lists associated with the defections from Iraqiyya in parliament that happened mainly in 2012 before and after the targeting of Vice President Tareq alHashemi. These include already known entities like White, Hall, Free Iraqiyya and Wataniyun, but there are also separate entities associated with figures like Ahmad al-Masari, Mustafa al-Hiti and Talal al-Zubayie. Saleh al-Mutlak does not appear to have registered a separate list, whereas it is noteworthy that the Iraqi Islamic Party (Sunni Islamist) has reappeared after it lost greatly to Iraqiyya in 2010 and was of little significance in the local elections in April this year.

Two significant omissions must be mentioned. For some reason, the Kurdish KDP party is not listed. Unless this is intended as grandstanding by Masud Barzani (who has hinted at the possibility of boycotting the elections), this presumably relates to a technicality. Also it is unclear whether a list loyal to Asaeb Ahl al-Haqq group, the Sadrist splinter group that has more recently flirted with Maliki, is included in this material. There is no obvious connection through name, but the party leadership has vowed it will run in the next elections.

All in all, it is the nature of an entity list of this kind that a fragmented picture appears. The list is a collection of potentials, and people who may intend to join coalitions at a future stage may have registered separately simply because of their own hubris. It is the coalition list that will truly count, and that is expected in December.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

After the Passage of Changes to the Iraqi Electoral System, Uncertainty about Their Legal Status

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 11 November 2013 18:33

Ever since the Iraqi parliament passed changes to the Iraqi electoral system on 4 November, doubt regarding the exact status of the action by parliament has lingered. In theory, the legal uncertainties concerning the nature of the piece of legislation passed by the government are such that parliamentary elections – now scheduled for late April 2014 – may be postponed or even canceled in a worst case scenario.

majlis1lawfinal

A juxtaposition of two snippets from the Iraqi parliamentary website – one on the day of the passage of the changes, and another featuring the website as it is today – highlight some of these ambiguities. On the day the law was passed, parliament published a legal text with the headline “law proposal for the revision of the electoral law no. 16 of 2005”. Conversely, today the headline for the same law simply reads, “election law for the Iraqi national assembly”. The more recent version of the document  is helpful in sorting out some contradictions that were present on the day the law was issued. In particular, it seemed strange to call the legislative act an amendment of the existing law, since article no. 47 of the newly passed piece of legislation specifically abrogated the law from 2005! But whereas semantics may be to blame in that respect, the distinction between a “law proposal” and a standard law is not so easily resolved. That is so because over the past couple of years, the Iraqi supreme court has developed something of a pet issue regarding the exclusive right of the executive power in Iraq – the cabinet and the president – to introduce legislative projects to parliament. An independent right of parliament to initiate legislation is not recognized,  and the court has consistently struck down as unconstitutional all “law proposals” that have been brought to its attention,  always citing article 60 of the Iraqi constitution.

It seems clear from all accounts that the new Iraqi electoral law that was passed last week was indeed a mere “proposal”. It reportedly originated from the legal committee in parliament. As such, it has not passed through the executive power, and it would be perfectly analogous and compatible with past precedent to have the law struck down as unconstitutional by the supreme court if anyone complained.

Crucially, such a formal complaint now reportedly exists. It has been reported that an exiled Iraqi  named Ayyad al-Bazi has submitted a complaint to the supreme court, precisely on the grounds that the new law is a mere proposal and therefore unconstitutional according to the court’s own jurisprudence.

Remarkably, at the same time, all major Iraqi parties insist they are looking ahead to elections in April next year. The State of Law bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said it was against the removal of the “largest remainder” method for calculating seats, but did not press the issue. For their part, the optics of the rapidly changing drafts of the law proposal seem to tell a story about quite intense horse-trading behind the scenes. First, of course, during the revision of the local election law in late 2012, it was thought the standard Sainte Lague method would offer the enhanced proportionality demanded by the supreme court after its review of the original election law from 2005. Then, in a draft for the changes to the general elections law published by Al-Mada in July, the D’Hondt proportional formula, which is slightly more beneficial to bigger parties, was used. Finally, all of a sudden, a so-called modified version of Sainte Lague was inserted in the law passed last week. “Modified Sainte Lague “ is already in use in several democracies including Norway and Sweden, with the first divisor of the votes aggregated by each party seat at 1.4. This gives bigger parties more advantages than a pure St. Lague would give (as in the Iraqi local elections law). Notice, though, that Iraq has created its own version of modified St. Lague, with the first divisor raised from 1.4 to 1.6, giving even more to the larger parties. (Also, unlike for example Norway, there are no longer any compensation seats at the national level in Iraq to reduce disproportionality.) This all smacks of a bazaar logic, and one cannot help wondering whether some of it represents a concession to Maliki, who was deeply unhappy with St. Lague in the local elections law.

Lijphard

One must also wonder how the Iraqi communist party, who started the drive towards a more proportional system through a complaint to the supreme court, feels about all this. There has been much confusion about the new changes, with some alarmist reports out of the United States suggesting that the threshold for representation has gone up dramatically. This is not the case: There is no longer any  “electoral divider” (qasim intikhabi) by which total votes are divided by seats available in each governorate to set an official cut-off point for representation. That was an aspect of the largest remainder method that no longer comes into play. However, simulations of the 2010 results strongly suggest that the communist party would remain unrepresented under the new system as well. Indeed, Arend Lijphart,  an internationally recognized expert on democratic theory and electoral systems, considers modified Sainte Lague with a divisor 0f 1,4 less proportional than largest remainder, meaning that Iraq with its even bigger divisor of 1.6 has moved even further away from the proportionality of the original system.

The communist party could thus legitimately complain to the supreme court again, since the new legislation has done little to address their claims and possibly has made for a worse situation from the proportionality point of view. Rather than changing the formula, the key to better proportionality would probably be either more national seats or a single constituency – the latter is mostly rejected by Iraqi parties because of its other disadvantages. In any case, now that Mr. Ayyad al-Bazi’s appeal has been lodged with the federal supreme court, something is there that can potentially be used to cancel or delay the elections, or be used as a means of pressure by those who are less eager to hold elections than others. On the surface, then, Iraq seems on track to polling in late April, with a deadline for political entity registration set for next week. Once more, though, Iraq’s supreme court could become embroiled in politics, and its track record of staying above Iraqi factionalism has not been a terribly good one during the past few years.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Iraqi constitutional issues, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Iraq Amends Its Electoral Law and Is Ready for Parliamentary Elections in April 2014

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 4 November 2013 19:51

Iraq has finally amended its electoral law, paving the way for general elections to go ahead no later than 1 May 2014.

The most significant  change to the electoral law concerns the seat distribution method. Following a supreme court ruling that deemed the previous largest-remainder principle unconstitutional, a more proportional, so-called modified St. Lague method will be used to calculate seats. This gives smaller parties slightly better chances to win seats than under the previous system.

Other major systemic changes that were on the table were all dropped. There will be no change to the open-list system, nor will there be any revision to a single, nationwide electoral constituency, which the Kurds had pressed for.

Instead, there are minor adjustment to the seat distribution between governorates. The seven seats that were distributed to the winning blocs at the national level in 2010 have been allotted to governorates instead, and three extra seats have been added to the mix. The governorates that won one extra seat each are Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar, Babel, Karbala, Anbar, Diyala, Erbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniyya. The eight minority seats remain the same.

It is noteworthy that in this way, the Kurds came best out of the new apportionment. Compare with 2010, where the Kurds eventually won one of the seven national/compensation seats, or 14%. This time they are guaranteed a third of the ten seats that are allotted on top of the 310 seats that are distributed based on population statistics. Kurdish assertiveness in this question in turn reflects their historical dissatisfaction with the ministry of trade statistics (based on ration cards) used to determine the number of deputies per Iraqi governorate. The Kurds had hoped that ministry of planning estimates would be used instead, thereby increasing the number of MPs to 351. When this didn’t happen, the Kurds achieved a respectable second best alternative through a disproportional increase in the newly added governorate seats. Generally speaking, since the Kurds have reasonable internal coherence and discipline among its parliamentarians, seat increases work in their favour. Conversely, the Shiite Islamists have strenuously fought against seat increases, probably fearing even greater fragmentation as a result. For their part, the secular (and now increasingly Sunni-backed) Iraqiyya has already fragmented to such a degree that its leaders may have supported the Kurdish position simply in the hope that any increase in seat number would offer them a greater chance to keep their own personal seats! It is noteworthy that in the end, clear signals from the Shiite clergy expressing disapproval of a seat increase were not adhered to entirely. Some sources suggest the United Nations Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) played a role in facilitating a compromise on this issue between the Kurds and the Shiite Islamists.

One caveat concerning the new law needs to be mentioned: Its status as a “law proposal” rather than a “legislative project”. The Iraqi federal supreme court has consistently struck down such proposals as unconstitutional when challenged (and especially when these laws are unfavourable to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki). It might do so again, simply for consistency. An even trickier issue concerns the Yazidi minority quota, which the court itself ordered be adjusted upwards in 2010 – that didn’t happen today (and the Yazidis protested). There are however two ameliorating factors here: Firstly, with regard to the overall status of this act of legislation, the new law was passed as an amendment to an existing law, rather than as a brand new law. Second, the new law successfully addresses specific and overriding issues that the supreme court itself had raised regarding seat distribution method. Hopefully, there is now so much momentum towards elections in April 2014 that no side will try to fish in the legal murky waters that admittedly exist. It would, after all, be a parody if the supreme court used a technicality to strike down legislative amendments that the court itself had previously dictated.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | Comments Off

As Maliki Visits Washington, the Iraqi Parliament Seeks Electoral System Compromise

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 1 November 2013 12:36

As Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visits Washington, highly polarized narratives about the nature of his rule in Iraq compete for attention. Maliki himself focuses on reintegration in the Arab world, growth in oil production, and a modicum of internal stability that is only disturbed by the situation in Syria. Some American senators see things very differently, accusing him of authoritarianism and a failure to create a truly inclusive government. In the most extreme iteration of this point of view, Maliki is seen as contributing to the problems in Syria because of the ways Iran is allowed to use Iraqi territory in their efforts to bolster the Assad regime.

It may be worthwhile to use current developments on the Iraqi political scene – unfolding day by day as Maliki visits Washington – as a yardstick for evaluating these very different interpretations of his premiership. These days, Iraqi politicians are busying themselves with amendments to the country’s electoral system. They are trying to pass a brand new election law that will incorporate changes to the current law from 2005 following criticisms from the federal supreme court. If this fails, they will simply make yet another amendment to the existing one – but the independent electoral commission IHEC has warned that it needs to do so fast in order that technical preparations can be completed before elections can go ahead in April 2014.

The optics of this aren’t entirely unfortunate for Maliki. Far from intervening in the squabbles in the Iraqi parliament which began this week and continue on Saturday, he is far away in Washington, not at all fitting the description of him as a paranoid, control-freak autocrat that is terrified of challenges to his rule. The debate about the election law itself has also degenerated into basic haggling over seat allocations to the various provinces, quite similar to what we saw in the autumn of 2009. Initially, there had been prospects for more radical changes to the districting system, but what we are seeing now is a replay of disputes that are four years old, and that mainly relate to the preference of the Kurdish parties to use the population statistics from the ministry of planning rather than those of the ministry of trade. Using the planning ministry figures would increase the number of seats in parliament from 325 to 351, which the Shiite Islamists in parliament have opposed in particular. Most likely a solution will eventually be found, and most likely it will involve some kind of opaque compromise in which statistics will be subordinated to the horse-trading efforts of Iraqi parliamentarians.

There is however one important caveat here that ultimately also relates to the evaluation of the current state of Maliki’s Iraq. What has failed to receive much attention is the fact that the law that is currently being considered by the Iraqi parliament is a brand new law proposal, rather than amendments to the existing law. As a “proposal” or muqtarah it has not been approved by the cabinet, and the most recent trend has been for the Iraqi supreme court to strike down this kind of proposals as incomplete legislative acts – something it has done in particular when new laws have been to the disadvantage of Maliki. Moreover, since the current iteration of the election law from 2005 has also been deemed unconstitutional because of its seat distribution formula, there is a theoretical possibility that Iraq will be without a valid election law if anyone challenges the new law proposal. Maliki might do so if he wishes to delay the elections, although there would be a highly ironic twist to this in that Maliki’s allies are the ones who favour the seat distribution key of the 2005 law that has since been deemed unconstitutional by the supreme court and is the reason the law is being revised in the first place. At any rate, if this kind of scenario should materialize, it would clearly support the interpretation that Maliki is unafraid of the Iraqi parliament because he chooses to ignore it, relying instead on rulings by the supreme court that consistently strengthen his hold on power.

The reality, as ever, is of course somewhere between these extreme, black and white interpretations. And the parliamentary elections of 2014 will in many ways decide which of the two scenarios prevails in the long term. Instead of seeking to impose particular preferences regarding Iraq’s electoral system or fetishizing the question of a third term for Maliki, Washington should use the visit of the Iraqi PM to provide the him with a gentle reminder that Iraq’s problems cannot be reduced to spillover from Syria alone. Whilst there is nothing in the Iraqi constitution or democratic theory more broadly that stands in the way of a third term for Maliki, a failure on his part to build a broader and more inclusive electoral alliance could prevent him from succeeding for the third time. This is not the same as saying that any new government should be a power-sharing one (as opposed to a political-majority government). It just implies that Maliki’s State of Law coalition in its current configuration looks very far from being capable of securing a majority in the next Iraqi national assembly, quite regardless of which method is adopted to count the votes and how many seats are allotted to each of the provinces.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

 
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