Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for November 23rd, 2009

The Hashemi Veto Backfires, Parliament Ups the Ante

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 23 November 2009 16:28

Khalid Shwani (Kurdistan Alliance) and Bahaa al-Aaraji (Sadrist) at today’s press conference subsequent to the vote. Salim al-Jibburi, the Tawafuq member of the legal committee who had been prominent when the previous amendments were passed on 8 November, did not join them

In a dangerous development, the Iraqi parliament has voted 133 against 19 for a new amendment to the election law after the first batch of amendments passed on 8 November was rejected by Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi. Originally, around 190 deputies had been present when the parliamentary session started this morning.

In their first press briefings subsequent to the vote, the prime movers behind the second amendment – the Iraqi National Alliance (Hakim/Sadr/Jaafari), the State of Law Alliance (Maliki), and the Kurdistani Alliance (PUK/KDP) – have tried to highlight the most palatable aspects of the amendments. The idea of linking the exiled vote to specific governorates (i.e. governorates of origin) is progressive in that the weight of the exiled vote will be more equal to that of domestic Iraqis, even if this solution probably means a logistical nightmare for those tasked with organising the vote abroad, depending on what exact “special procedures” are adopted by the Iraqi election commission. Also, the ad hoc parliamentary alliance that favoured the amendment tried to highlight minor modifications to the procedures for electing the Christian minority seats, primarily in the shape of a single electoral constituency (thought to be a concession to demands by Christian leaders).

The part of the amendment that is not talked about so much by these parties is the real bargain that lies behind it: A reversion to the distribution of parliamentary seats according to the 2005 allocations, with an overall 2.8% annual growth rate reckoned across the country. This replaces the arrangement adopted on 8 November, whereby statistics from the trade ministry would form the basis for a new distribution of seats. The new statistics reflect population movements in the period 2005–2009 and in contrast to the figures used in 2005 relate to total population rather than registered voters. They had been known to Iraqi politicians and the Iraqi public prior to the vote on 8 November, but were officially confirmed only on 11 November. The fact that the trade ministry, dominated as it is by loyalists of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, published statistics that showed the strongest growth in Sunni areas (and especially Nineveh), was taken as an indication that there was a degree of neutrality to them. However, the statistics were criticised by the Kurds for the low growth figures they provided for Kurdistan, and Masud Barzani even threatened to boycott the elections unless they were changed.

That situation in turn created a context in which a veto by Hashemi was always going to be a hazardous proposition. The substance of veto itself is perfectly understandable, and relates to discrimination of exiled voters in the old law that was real and serious. But Hashemi then tried to pretend that it was possible to present a “partial veto” and went ahead with this kind of innovation in a context when he knew that the Kurds were interested in revisiting perceived losses in the seat allocation. As was inevitable, perhaps, the Kurds saw a chance to do some further bargaining over the seat distribution and on this issue rediscovered their old friends in the mainly Shiite Islamist parties, who now care less about the exiled voters than in 2005 and certainly do not see any reason to allow Nineveh disproportionate growth rates in the 2005–2009 period if this can be avoided. As a result – and as the clearest expression of the horse-trading that was involved in this amendment – the updated ministry of trade statistics from 2009 have been politicised and replaced by the old distribution key from 2005 which almost everyone knows has a weaker correlation with the current demographic realities. In other words, Hashemi’s move ultimately backfired regardless of whether he considers himself an Iraqi nationalist or a Sunni first. Yesterday, even Mosul representatives pleaded with him to withdraw his veto, because they saw what was coming.

Unlike the Kirkuk issue which tends to unite groups of different ethno-sectarian backgrounds against the Kurds, the Hashemi veto with its focus on the exiled vote has brought back, at least temporarily, old lines of division in the Iraqi parliament that are more clearly sectarian. It should be added that many nationalists of whatever sectarian description still support Hashemi (for example, Hiwar and Wifaq did come up with a second alternative that involved a separate electoral district for the exiles) , but Shiite Islamists tend to agree with the Kurds over this issue to a greater degree than they do in the Kirkuk question. Ironically, then, with the “new” seat allocation according to the 2005 key, Hashemi is now likely to come under much greater pressure from below for producing a second veto than was the case before the first veto. This time, Mosul politicians will feel that the clock has been turned back to 2005 in more than one sense: Not only is the “new” distribution key a relic from that period, but for the first time in a long while the configuration of their opponents – an alliance of Kurds and Shiite Islamists – is looking more similar to the situation in 2005 as well.

Whatever Hashemi chooses to do, parliament now goes on holiday until 8 December.

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