Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Hashemi Veto

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 18 November 2009 12:11

Observers of political developments in Iraq are at odds to explain the background of today’s veto by the Iraqi presidency council, through Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, of the recently-passed Iraqi election law.

On the face of it, the justification of the veto seems clear. It is related not to the controversial issue of Kirkuk but to the quota of seats reserved for the exiled voters. The law adopted on 8 November set aside 5 per cent of the seats in total for so-called “national” and “compensatory” seats. Since this quota will also cater for out-of-country voting and minority seats (and because of the particular distribution mechanism adopted), it will in practice involve a minimum of “compensation” (in the sense of enhancing proportionality lost due to the discrepancies between a theoretical single constituency and the 18 constituencies that will be used across Iraq). And since the minority seats make up half the quota, the remainder of 8 seats leaves the exiled Iraqis – who are estimated at as many as 3 million according to some sources – with a very poor level of representation compared to the domestic ratio of representation and the constitutional standard of 1 deputy per 100,000 Iraqis. Hashemi wants a quota of 15 per cent instead.

The politics of all of this is harder to understand. It is true that Hashemi for a while assumed a nationalist posture, first over Kirkuk, but more pronouncedly later on in the name of the exiled voters with reference to the quota adopted on 8 November. Also, Hashemi this autumn finally left the Sunni-dominated Tawafuq to form his own party and reportedly remains in negotiations with the nationalist Allawi/Mutlak alliance – which in turn has also focused on the quota for exiles as being too low and cited it as a possible objection to the law. Also some other Iraqi nationalists, like Mahmud al-Mashhadani, have welcomed the move by Hashemi. But at the same time, however, certain Iraqi media outlets dominated by exiled nationalists tend to dismiss the attempt by Hashemi to speak in their name, portraying him instead as someone who has worked loyally within the post-2003 system of government in Iraq and with Maliki since 2006, serving as vice-president in a role designed as a “Sunni” figurehead. There are even whispers of him being favoured by Turkey, whose government for the past year or so has spent more energy investing in Iraqi Kurdistan than on making noise about Kirkuk (whose transformation to a standalone federal entity Ankara reportedly sees as a viable solution).

Moreover, it is interesting that the focus of the veto by Hashemi relates to one of the few points in the election bill where the Kurdish parties disagreed with the mainly Shiite parties of the old UIA that helped secured a parliamentary majority. The vote on the size of the “national seats” quota was a split one, with the Kurds originally favouring a 15% quota over the 5% that was adopted by the majority of the assembly. Also, like in 2008, the Kurds wanted more minority seats – a phenomenon that relates to local politics in the Nineveh governorate where the Kurds hope that greater quotas will enable them to promote pro-Kurdish politicians among the Shabak and the Yazidi communities, whose most popular leaders in some cases are anti-Kurdish (especially true with regard to the Shabak), but where bigger slices might create space for pro-Kurdish representatives as well. Additionally, the Kurdish calculation may be that there is still a considerable Kurdish exiled vote. By way of contrast, both Sadrists and members of Maliki’s alliance have criticised the veto today, reflecting perhaps a feeling that the net rate of return to Iraq since 2005 has been greater among Shiites.

What we are seeing in practice is thus a gamble in which Hashemi is basically adopting the Kurdish position, as articulated during the first vote on the bill on 8 November. It is unclear whether this will endear him to the Iraqi nationalist voters in whose name he is seeking to speak (who would probably have been more impressed by a firmer position on Kirkuk). True, an enlargement of the quota to 15% would mean around 45 seats in total and an effective increase of the quota that includes the exiled vote by perhaps some 20 representatives, depending on how the minority quota fares. But the transparency of the exiled vote will be particularly difficult to guarantee given the continued dominance of the ethno-religious parties that won the 2005 elections at many Iraqi diplomatic missions abroad, plus the general confusion about the true number of Iraqi exiles. As for President Jalal Talabani, he first said he had no objections to the law but later expressed sympathy for Hashemi alongside other Kurdish politicians; it is now Hashemi rather than Talabani that will become the focus of the anticipated American displeasure.

Also, this is a gamble in the sense that the spectre of a return to the 2005 election law with closed list (or a constitutional crisis) looms in the background. The bill will now go back to parliament, and although the veto relates to a particular clause, it seems unclear whether debate in parliament will be restricted to that individual item, and whether reaching a decision on that point is going to be particularly easy. Some Kurds have already signalled a preference for an 18 per cent quota, suggesting they see an increase of the “national seats” as being in their own interest. Additionally, the veto comes at a time when the Kurds have protested the distribution of seats between governorates – which is governed by a reference to statistics from the trade ministry rather than by the law as such, and which could open up a can of worms in case it should become the subject of parliamentary debate. This all makes it hard to isolate today’s decision from the conspiracy theory that circulated prior to the adoption of the law to the effect that the Iraqi establishment that won seats back in 2005 are prepared to make any step to defend their own privileges from the danger of enhanced competition that would accompany an open list system.

The bill now goes back to parliament for further discussion. It can be vetoed by the presidency council for a second time, after which point a three-fifths majority in parliament would secure its passage into law.

28 Responses to “The Hashemi Veto”

  1. Brent said

    Reidar , great post, very interesting development. Is it true that the population figures the department of trade used were based on ration cards and if so how does this work?

  2. Reidar Visser said

    I am pretty sure the ration card is the link, since the trade ministry is charged with procuring (cfr all the scandals) and distributing the rations. In that way, they may be the government department that holds the most comprehensive registers of the Iraqi population that are available pending the completion of a census. I’m afraid I don’t know much about the nitty-gritty of how it works at the local level.

  3. Salah said

    who are estimated at as many as 3 million according to some sources –

    I think this is underestimated number for Iraqi exile. As we know as Iraqis there were 5 millions around the world before 2003, adding more after the war some say 1.5 Syria, 800,000 Egypt and some in Iran and others places and countries around should the number much that 3mil.

    Before 2005 election there was a big campaigning lead by same religious parties and others outside Iraq, we invited to see the Iraqi counsellors/ ambassadors, there were very friendly and helpful, they came to Iraqi exiles to tell them we are here to help process your needs (Passports, pensions, documents other lost replacement official documents) which was hard or not allowed before 2003 unless you go back.

    Most Iraqis start to communicate with the inside without trebles. That was used to pushes the voting for this side or that side, after that all is faded and dead.

    Now they don’t need Iraqi exile in this election, as if they worry of their seats and votes from inside as they happy with it.

    As for the rations cards there are a lot stories even in Iraqi newspapers about frauds of the number of people them actually should hold them. I remember last month or so there was news said they found 100,000 false cards that issued for some people also there are some people have more that one card….. This opens the talk or the credibility with the number of voters by adapting the rations cards?

    Reidar, do you know why the commission not use the identity card (Birth Card) as an registered documents?

    I heard some official saying there are 19mil voters??? I don’t know from were estimated that number as far as we know there are 25Mil Iraqi so 19mil looks very excessive number of voters with nation counting 25mil? Isn’t?

    Reidar, do you know what last time raised of Iraqi Jews in Israel and their votes last time are they also he count or not?

  4. moh said

    What do you mean by “national seats” Reidar?

  5. bb said

    “But the transparency of the exiled vote will be particularly difficult to guarantee given the continued dominance of the ethno-religious parties that won the 2005 elections at many Iraqi diplomatic missions abroad, ”

    An implied disparagement of Iraqis who voted overseas in the 2005 elections as compared to those who are referred to as “exiled”?

    We have a quite sizeable Iraqi expatriate community here in Australia. Kurdish and arab iraqis, both sunni and shia. Most of them were refugees from Sunni-led Baath persecution in the 1980s and 90s under the Saddam regime. They too are exiles.

    Their vote in the 3 elections of 2005 are no less authentic because they voted for the mainstream Kurdish and shia parties, or in favor of the Constitution, than those of iraqis who voted against, or for other parties. Their votes are no less authentic than those of iraqis exiled after 2005. To suggest that their votes were influenced by “Iraqi diplomatic missions abroad” is simply not the case in Australia. Nor, I suspect, in the rest of the world.

  6. Reidar Visser said

    “National seats” are a part of the compensatory seat quota (45 in 2005) that is distributed at the end. They include the exiled vote since it would be practially difficult to let exiles vote in specific governorates. Hence “national” as opposed to “governorate” seats.

    Bb, no disparagement intended and I’m not sure how you arrive at that interpretation. I’m saying exiled votes are problematic in any case, especially in countries like Jordan, Syria and Iran where no one is counting and keeping track of the Iraqi refugee population (and where the majority of Iraqis abroad live). There are many stories about people using their vote more than once in the same election back in 2005.

  7. Salah said

    and arab iraqis, both sunni and shia. Most of them were refugees from Sunni-led Baath persecution in the 1980s and 90s under the Saddam regime.

    If reread Bb statement again with pausing on two pints:

    “both sunni and shia” OK this quite right, then:

    “were refugees from Sunni-led Ba’ath” ?

    Look the irony here?

    Bb you either don’t know which doubt it as you keep sing this bad song for so long or you have some ” dirty” work keeping stating this tone.

    SADDAM HAD NO RELIGION HE WAS STUPID BLOODY Dictator he killed any Iraqi spoke or rejects his power he did not care who are.

    their votes were influenced by “Iraqi diplomatic missions abroad” is simply not the case in Australia.

    Bb, you mistaken suggested the above, go back to your sources asked what and how Al- shalaby omnivores before 2005 election with Iraqi embassy team (most Kurds).

  8. Salah said

    ويبدو ان ما كشف لغاية هذه اللحظة من معلومات هو غيض من فيض، ولا يشكل إلا جزءا ضئيلا من الانتهاكات التي رافقت جميع العمليات الانتخابية، وشملت أنواع عديدة من طرق التزوير وتقنياته، واستخدام المال السياسي، واستغلال مناصب الدولة ووسائلها في الدعاية الانتخابية، والتدخل الإقليمي والدولي، وشراء الذمم والأصوات مرورا بالاغتيالات وحرق مقرات الأحزاب المنافسة، تلك الجرائم التي غضت المفوضية الطرف عنها، ولم تتخذ أي إجراء بصدد القوى التي انتهكت العمليات الانتخابية.

  9. Susan said

    I’m wondering how you think the veto will effect the elections date considering the advent of Arbaeen in early February. When do pilgrims start coming to Karbala? and when do they leave? Will it be impossible to hold elections during that period of time?

    Thank you.


  10. Reidar Visser said

    Susan, there are conflicting views on this. Some say the Shiite Islamist parties wanted to have the vote right after the month of Muharram (which starts around 17 December). The original date by mid-January would be ideal according to this perspective, since Ashura is around 27 December. With respect to the elections coinciding with Arbaeen, I’m not sure what the net effect would be. We had almost this situation in the local elections last January, and back then some of the religious parties complained that their followers were more interested in pilgrimage than in politics… Some even travelled on foot to Karbala so for them it turned into a week-long holiday, preventing them from casting their ballots on 31 January. But this shows that holding the vote even right after Muharram and before Arbaeen is in fact doable.

  11. bb said

    Fair enough, but am still not sure what the inference was in the reference to Iraq diplomatic missions.

    For the record, Out of Country voting Jan 05: 263,685 registered voters; 36.1% UIA, 30.6% voted for Kurds,9.2% Allawi, 7% National Rafidaim.

    Do you have any figures for Our of country in the Dec election? Or the Constituion vote? Also what was National Rafidaim?


    I think your experience was colored by your particular political viewpoint. The point is, those who registered got to vote on a fair, free, democratic election. It was an historic moment for Iraqis, whatever their political points of view.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, this simply refers to the fact that many of the embassies abroad are under control of particular political parties since the ambassadors and the top staff were appointed according to muhasasa principles. In the context of an isolated diplomatic enclave abroad with few counterweights from competing Iraqi forces, this would seem to generally increase the possibility of fraud.

    I’ve got the December 2005 results elsewhere and will try to remember to post the OCV bit when I get access to them. Meanwhile, the Rafidayn is a Christian list – the Christians were (and are) heavily over-represented in the Iraqi diaspora, and are also well organised. Back in 2005, the greatest number of exiled votes came from Iran. The biggest change today is that a greater proportion will probably be from Jordan and Syria, where there has been an increase of refugees from places like Baghdad (post-2006) and Kirkuk.

  13. bb said

    Are you saying that all Iraqi ambassadors and top staff at the Iraqi diplomatic missions throughout the world in 2005 were party hacks and were NOT chosen from the existing or past diplomatic corps? ie, they were present or past professionals?

    For the record:

    That was not the case in Australia.

    The embassy was reopened in 2004. The new ambassador was a Mr Ghanim Al Shibli.

    According to his credentials published here at the time: “Mr Al Shibli had represented his country in Iraq and Washington for 12 years, under Saddam Hussein’s regime, before pursuing an academic career in the US. He returned to Iraq in April last year to take up senior roles with the Iraqi Governing Council.”

    But no doubt the ethno-sectarian smear would be applied to Mr al Shibli soley because he was appointed by the IGC?

    As can be seen, the out of country votes simply reflected the fact that, under the orders of its leaders, the sunni arab community boycotted the vote vote. The ethno sectarian smear also orginated from the sunni arab boycott.

    As also can be seen, the vote reflected the fact that the expatriate communities were largely comprised of those who had been persecuted by the baath regime in the 1980s and 90s – Kurds, Shia and Christians. Interesting to see though that Allawi’s secular list did well.

    As a sidelight, a not insignicant section of the Kurdish community were/are dyed-in-the-wool communists and objected to the elections because of the imperialist occupation!

    However a subsantial number of Iraqis here were keen to exercise their new democratic rights and turned out to vote. They got much attention from the Oz media at the time.

  14. Salah said

    Here we go now it came from Talabani mouth loudlly:

    الجمعة 20/11/2009
    الجيران ـ السليمانية ـ قال الرئيس العراقي جلال طالباني ان ضغوطا كبيرة نارستها واشنطن على المسؤولين العراقيين ادت الى التصديق على قانون الانتخابات .واضاف طالباني لدى وصوله الى السليمانية قادما من فرنسا بعد زيارة استمرت اربعة ايام ان نائب الرئيس الأميركي جوزيف بادين قد اتصل به ثلاث مرات من اجل الاسراع في اصدار القانون


    Read above to convince yourself and be real next time.

    I have no more different political view than most main stream Iraqi the only thing is I love my country prode been Iraqi as you do.

    For the last seven years, thinking no “dirty” works done inside Iraq and over the international agencies includes UN, you are then speaking from your “biased” “colored by your particular political viewpoint”
    Its really obvious enough and well documented with most posts and comments you made here and there. Which is most of them out realities on the ground inside Iraq and you try to “ colored” as a reality for obvious rezones in combatable to your country master views and works in Iraq.

    Good luck, keep dermas up, remembers Iraqi had more than 12 historical invasion/ distractions during the history.

    But what it make him different from another “dead” nations” Iraq reborn again and stand on his feet’s prod we as Iraqi looking for the future not today miss and your dirty thoughts and works.

  15. Salah said

    You open a window to the full half of Iraq glass? The 2009 Transparency International index

    This the ” historic moment” that you prod of.

    After Seven years, this is the outcome of the work you beliven from your sacrifices and human work for better Iraq…. what a marvellous work…

    Well done

  16. Reidar Visser said

    Bb, I’m not saying the phenomenon is universal, just that it is widespread. Just to give an example from the post-2003 appointments, the Iraqi ambassador to Tehran used to be the director of the office of Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim of SCIRI. Just weeks ago, the Iraqi parliament passed a long list of new diplomats of whom many are clearly affiliated with political parties. Similarly, people in Basra have for years been complaining that there are no ambassadors from their city since all the posts are given to apparatchiks of the big parties (who often hail from Baghdad and the mid-Euphrates rather than from the far south).

  17. Alihal said

    Hi Reidar. Could you explain, maybe in simpler terms, what this allocation of seats to exiled Iraqis is? Does it mean exiles can choose only up to 8 seats and thus only 8 MPs? Thanks.

  18. Reidar Visser said

    As of today, exiled voters can vote for one of the lists/coalitions. In contrast to domestic voters they cannot vote for a specific candidate on the list/coalition, since they do not vote in a particular governorate. Wherever they may be, no Iraqi can vote for more than one list or one candidate on a list. The other differences with regard to exiled voters come into play during the counting process and will not mean any thing in practical terms during the process of voting as such.

  19. Alihal said

    Thanks Reidar – but what of the whole 5% or 8 seats aspect?

  20. Reidar Visser said

    Consider it this way. For the moment, Iraqis at home vote for a governorate representative. Their vote is counted first at the governorate level to decide the deputies of that governorate. Subsequently, all the votes of all Iraq are pooled together to find out whether there are some parties that did not achieve representation at the governorate level but would have achieved representation in case there had been only a single constituency. Any such parties are then given a “compensatory” seat. The rest of the “compensatory” seats are doled out to the other parties on a proportional basis as “national” seats. Now, crucially, as of today, the vote of the exile is only computed in the second (“national”/”compensatory”) calculus. There is no separate quota or electoral constituency exclusively set aside for the exiles; the exiled vote just serves to modify the results of the governorates, alongside the total of votes cast in those governorates.

    You can find more info about this by looking at the regulations that were issued before December 2005, since they are similar to the new system in many respects.

  21. Alihal said

    Thanks Reidar. What I mean is how are 8 seats “allocated” to exiles? What does this allocation of seats mean in practice? That they can elect 1 seat for….

  22. Reidar Visser said

    Again, there is at present no quota or allocation exclusively set aside for exiled voters. They just vote for lists and their votes are counted along with all the domestic votes when the compensatory seats are calculated at the end – whether these are 5 or 10 or 15%.

  23. Alihal said

    But assuming there was a quota Reidar, does it mean that exiled votes could only fill this specific quota, i.e 8 seats. So when the votes are counted, the commission will see to it that exiled votes contribute to 8 seats in government and nothing more…i.e parties/lists could only gain a maximum of 8 seats from votes abroad and this could be divided among the Shias,Sunnis, and the Kurds…

  24. Reidar Visser said

    Assuming that, yes. 8 seats in parliament in that hypothetical case, according to what voters voted, and without any regard to sectarian backgrounds of course. But there is no quota as of yet.

  25. Alihal said

    So does this mean the Kurds finally got what they wanted? Thanks Reidar.

  26. Reidar Visser said

    Not sure what you mean – are you referring to today’s vote? If so please see the other post. The Kurds appear to be happy about the new version of the law is that is what you are asking about.

  27. Alihal said

    Yes, the new version of the law. The 2.5% increase per year would favour them i imagine and more so in Ninewah, where the Sunnis would get less than originally given to them.

  28. Reidar Visser said

    OK please see the other post then. Basically, the Kurds are happier about the second iteration of the law.

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