Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Pushing the Limits of Decentralization: Kurdish Parties “Decide” to Postpone Local Elections in Mosul

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 18 December 2008 23:59

In a remarkable move, the Kurdish alliance in the Mosul governorate council has reportedly “decided” to postpone the local elections scheduled for 31 January 2009, ostensibly because “refugees” from Mosul currently residing in Kurdistan will not get the opportunity to vote.

The move comes after the two biggest Kurdish parties for more than one year have tried to obstruct local elections in Iraq, first voting against a fixed timeline when the provincial powers law was adopted, and later inventing a series of excuses and “problematic issues” (such as “widespread illiteracy”) to filibuster the debate on the elections law itself. When these measures failed, Kurdish leaders made up their mind and adopted the position that the Iraqi parliament had no authority to legislate on election affairs in Kurdistan anyway; accordingly no local elections will be held there. More recently, there have been Kurdish attempts to postpone elections in Diyala where there are Kurdish minorities.

But what about Mosul and the Nineveh province – in theory an ordinary Iraqi governorate controlled from Baghdad? Can a governorate council override a decision by the Iraqi parliament to hold local elections? Clearly the provincial elections law was adopted on the assumption that this is a sphere of government where Baghdad legislates, otherwise all the longwinded debates about minority representation in particular governorates (including Nineveh) would have been superfluous.

In practice, of course, Nineveh is anything but ordinary, with disproportionate Kurdish and Shiite influence due to the widespread elections boycott in 2005. It may be a sign of the times, though, that the five representatives of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) voted against the decision in the Mosul council, even if this was a mostly symbolic move as the Kurds have 31 seats and a clear majority. It will be interesting to see how Maliki, the elections commission, and the supreme judicial authorities will react.

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