Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Imposing the Law? What Law???

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 5 March 2009 23:59

Today’s announcement by Tawafuq member Umar Karbuli that the Iraqi parliament will wait until 14 April to revert to the issue of who should be the speaker of the assembly and also seek advice from the supreme federal court is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, the issue where legal “clarification” is sought is one on which the often-ambiguous Iraqi constitution of 2005 actually appears to be crystal-clear: the president is to be elected with an “absolute majority of the total members of the assembly”. Exactly the same wording is used to define the quorum of the assembly, which has always been considered to be half of the total number of members plus one, i.e. 138 out of 275. When something else has been intended, the expression “simple (basita) majority” has been used, or there is reference to “a majority of those who voted” (as in the constitutional revision clause). Obviously this is an attempt by Tawafuq and its allies to circumvent the requirement of 138 votes, which proved too difficult last time an attempt was made (Ayad al-Samarrai received 136 or 137 votes on 20 February).

Secondly, this issue is interesting because Daawa members and advisers to Nuri al-Maliki have expressed somewhat divergent views on the question of seeking advice from the high court. On 21 February, Haydar al-Abbadi expressed satisfaction about this kind of procedure, highlighting his confidence that the court would maintain the view that an absolute majority would have to be calculated on the basis of the total number of assembly members. But one day earlier, Hasan al-Sunayd had indicated that he preferred the election of the candidate with the highest number of votes, regardless of the requirement of an absolute majority. So far, Daawa has vacillated in the speaker issue, reportedly voting blank on 20 February (and hence against Samarrai, who is the candidate of the ISCI-KDP-PUK-Tawafuq bloc).

This is of course not the first time Iraqi parliamentarians have treated the 2005 constitution in a creative fashion. For example, all the timelines relating to constitutional revision have been arbitrarily extended and now appear to be largely forgotten.

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