Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

21 Responses to “The Hashemi Veto Backfires, Parliament Ups the Ante”

  1. Rizg said

    What impact will this have on the 323 seat parliament? Also, what exactly is wrong here, the Sunnis, domestic or otherwise, wont be discriminated against…isnt the amendment a fair and equitable one?

  2. Reidar,
    I think replacing one population estimate with another will not strengthen democracy, only census will. But parliament’s response to Hashimi’s veto is provocative and invites a second veto. Now what do you foresee in one month?

  3. Reidar Visser said

    Rizg, I just tried to do a very quick calculation, my first impression is that I guess this could mean more or less same total as today (maybe 278), which would accommodate 230 governorate seats multiplied by an annual growth rate of 2.8% for five years plus 8 minority seats plus 5% compensation/national seats. But, importantly, this excludes the exiled population from the seat calculus (although exiles now do get to vote more or less on the same terms as domestic Iraqis). If the exiles are included also in calculating the seats, then the total should be greater. For example, the 45 compensatory seats of 2005 would have grown to 51, but, as explained earlier, this should not be thought of as an exile quota proper. 2 million exiles should mean 20 extra seats and so on at a 1:100,000 ratio.

    The problem is to justify the return to statistics from 2005 instead of using fresh figures from October 2009 that are in fact available. Back in 2005, Iraq was in a far more confused state than it is today, and this strange reversion to 2005 figures smacks of political deal-making at the expense of more up-to-date statistiscs that were recently created by a government ministry.

    Faisal, like you, I think this will get vetoed. Parliament can then do one of two things. Either the 132 deputies who supported today’s bill may try to scramble the additional 33 votes needed for a three fifths majority. This would set an incredibly sectarian atmosphere for the elections, and Iran would be very happy. Or parliament could look at the sensible elements that have been arrived at during this process – chiefly the ideas of either tying the exiled votes to governorates or giving them a fully-fledged nineteenth electoral district – and discard the more far-fetched ones (like using five year old statistics from 2005) and seek to create a compromise on that basis. Simultaneously, the IHEC and the ministry of trade could try to enter into some kind of dialogue with the Kurds to get a better understanding of their complaints regarding the 2009 statistics.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    PS I have been advised that if you do the same calculation using 275 as starting point you end up at exactly 323. I agree that this is probably more likely to reflect how the (theoretical) growth rate of 2.8% was arrived at. However, I keep asking myself questions about the logic and wisdom of some of the new arrangements. For example, the new text says, “the new assembly will be composed of a number of deputies according to a 1:100,000 ratio based on the ministry of trade statistics for the governorates from 2005, allowing for a 2.8% annual growth”. Does this mean exiles are not included as a basis for calculating the seats? Moreover, the more I look at it, some of this strikes me as one of those incredibly crude deals that were cut back in 2005. How can you possibly have an election law that enshrines the demographic structure of a particular year (2005) and then intend to use it as basis for a general election law, with no provision for future demographic change? The idea about even population growth is theoretically problematic for any country; for a politically turbulent country like Iraq it does not make sense at all. The only thing that can be said with certainty about population growth in Iraq for the past four years is that it would be a miracle if it turned out to be even across all governorates.

  5. Sam Parker said

    Reidar, if you start at 275 you end up at exactly 315. Then you add the 8 minority seats, which are not counted in the 1/100,000 count because, of course, they are established precisely because the communities concerned cannot achieve such numbers. The latest IMF population statistics for Iraq list it as 31.234 million. This tells me that in both versions of the 2010 law, IHEC/COR are trying to hit the 1/100,000 target on a nationwide basis, including the compensatory count, not on a province-by-province basis. Thus, the new law will reflect the same province-by-province percentages as the 2005 elections, i.e. no province will increase disproportionately to the others. If you insert a comma between “100,000” and “based” in the section you quote, that gets the text a little closer. I agree it’s confusing but I’m 95% sure I’ve got it right. Would welcome correction from other readers.

    Also, it’s important to point out that the new compensatory/national district quota is now 5% of the total 315 (or 323–same count either way when you round), which means 16 seats as opposed to 8 last time. This, along with an increased overall count for Shia majority Baghdad, is how the Shia got back most of the seats they lost, and passed a new law which basically takes about 7 seats from Sunnis and gives them to the Kurds.

  6. Reidar Visser said

    But still, with regard to the (non-mention of) exiles in calculating the total:
    تألف مجلس النواب من عدد من المقاعد بنسبة مقعد واحد لكل مائة ألف نسمة وفقا لإحصائيات وزارة التجارة للمحافظات لعام 2005 على أن تضاف اليها نسبة النمو السكاني بمعدل (2.8) لكل محافظة سنويا
    The operational reference is limited to the “trade ministry statistics for the governorates for the year 2005″. The constitution clearly says the 1:100,000 ratio applies to all Iraqis and the federal court has just said there should be no discrimination between exiles and domestic Iraqis. This makes me wonder what happened to the refugees. Of course it is good their votes now get full weight, but they should have been part of the seat calculus too, I think.

    I think the text itself is straightforward enough, but its correlation with the constitution (and common sense) does not always seem to be particularly strong!

  7. bb said

    Whoever thought the day would come, after all those terrible years since 2003, that one would be loking at a photograph of a Kurdish and Sadrist (!)representative standing side by side at a MEDIA CONFERENCE explaining to the people a law passed by a democratically elected Iraqi parliament? And not a moustache to be seen?

    A truly amazing moment.

    Reidar, am still a little confused by what has happened. Is the seat allocation now to be on an even basis of a extra 2.8% across all the governorates? And it is proposed that the exiles vote will be folded their governorates, instead of a special quota?

  8. Reidar Visser said

    Sorry, I had hoped that would be clear from the article, maybe I wrote it too fast: The proportional distribution between the governorates will be the same as in 2005 but the absolute numbers will increase according to a theoretical 2.8% per annum growth in the population, across the board, and applied to the 1/100,000 ratio.

    Exiles will vote in their “home” governorates and their votes will carry the full weight of a domestic vote. I guess the main practical challenge in that regard is to determine and certify the home governorate.

    As for the peace-making between the Sadrists and the Kurds, I’m not so sure if this is a truly sustainable alliance for Iraq’s future. The Sadrists have in the past been extremely centralist, and I think the whole thing smells of short-term deal-making more than anything else.

  9. bb said

    Well I wasn’t reacting to the politics of it but the extraordinary spectacle of Iraq apparently fast becoming a truly modern democratic state – in stark contrast to its neighbours. And I think the Sadrists active role in all this might be worthy of more analysis?

    Apropos of the Iraq-as-modern-state, Gary Sick has a very interesting account of his recent visit to Najaf. Your opinion on it would be good.

    Re the new law. Honestly, I don’t see how it would be correct to estimate population changes on the basis that “everybody knows”, as you suggest. It was useful Sam Parker drawing attention to the IMF population estimate of Iraq.

    What Iraq needs is a census. Failing that, the fairest and most transparent way of increasing the no of COR seats would be a reversion to the national constituency.

    However, Iraqis clearly prefer their multi district governorates. Just as clearly the ministry of trade apportionment was very open to question to say the least. Finally the COR demonstrated on the Kirkuk issue that it was heavily against inserting discrimination into the process. This is all to the good, in my view.

    The other development that impressed me was the Iraqi Supreme Court carefully giving an “opinion” not a “decision”. Evidence of its independence?

  10. Alihal said

    The 2.5% increase per year would favour the Kurds I imagine and more so in Ninewah, where the Sunnis would get less than originally given to them, unless I’m mistaken. Having seen the Sunnis walk out, surely the Kurds and the Shias know this isnt going to be a clean election if Hashimi doesn’t veto and they get the two thirds? Where was the sense in passing this despite the Sunni walkout. Did all the Sunni Arabs walkout?

  11. halomahmud said

    No more guaranteed seats for exiles then?

  12. Salah said

    نشر موقع السيدالهاشمي تفسيره للآعتراضلات حول القانون الجديد حيث قال:
    21 تشرين الثاني 2009

    اكد الاستاذ طارق الهاشمي نائب رئيس الجمهورية ان قانون الانتخابات الذي اقره مجلس النواب يفتقد إلى الأساس الدستوري وخصوصاً في مادته الأولى مما استدعاني لنقض القانون انطلاقاً من مسؤولية مجلس الرئاسة في السهر على تطبيق الدستور .
    واضاف سيادته في حوار تلفزيوني اجري معه : كان لا بد لي من ممارسة حقي الدستوري وضمان تحقق العدالة والانصاف لمختلف المكونات الاجتماعية من جهة والمهجرين من جهة اخرى
    وبخصوص موقف مجلس النواب من هذا النقض اوضح سيادته : ” هناك آليات دستورية معروفة للجميع في كيفية تعامل مجلس النواب مع القوانين التي ينقضها مجلس الرئاسة ” , مضيفا : ” بامكان مجلس النواب أن يصوت بالإيجاب على المقترحات والتعديلات التي وردت في كتاب النقض أو يعدلها أو يرفضها ويعيدها مرة ثانية إلى مجلس الرئاسة من اجل دراستها واتخاذ القرار المناسب بصددها “.
    وحول الاعتراضات التي ابداها البعض بخصوص نقض القانون اكد الهاشمي : ” لم اسمع اعتراضاً موضوعياًَ حتى هذه اللحظة يقول ان طارق الهاشمي تجاوز القانون أو تجاوز الدستور في تجاوز النسبة المئوية التي منحت من مقاعد التعويض إلى عراقيي الخارج والكوتا ، لم أسمع حتى هذه اللحظة اعتراضاً ينتقد إعادة توزيع المقاعد على المكونات العرقية , لم أسمع حتى هذه اللحظة انتقاداً موضوعياً على أهمية إعادة النظر بالقوائم الصغيرة التي لم تفز بالقوائم الكبرى من حيث توزيع العدالة من حيث تكريس مبدأ التعددية السياسية ”
    واختتم سيادته حديثه بالقول : “هذه هي المحاور الرئيسية التي ضمنتها تعديلي في كتاب النقض وقد توارد إلى سمعي أن البعض يدعي عدم دستورية النقض وهذه الادعاءات فندت اليوم السبت بالجلسة التي عقدها مجلس النواب لمناقشة موضوع النقض والوصول الى صيغة مقبولة للمادة المنقوضة ” .

    صحيفة الحقيقه في العراق

  13. Reidar Visser said

    Here are some quick replies to comments that were posted during the night:

    Bb, I just find it truly remarkable that you, from your vantage point in Australia, can rule that the 2005 statistics are obviously better than the 2009 ones. Or that the IMF macro statistics should be of any relevance to the per-governorate distribution of seats. The bottom line is that because of the ration-card system, the Iraqi ministry of trade is probably the only institution in the world that has a reasonably reliable registers of Iraqis, based not on speculation but on material relationships. The fact that a Shiite-dominated ministry actually produced figures showing an increase in Sunni-majority areas suggests to me that there is a degree of neutrality to those estimates, and to revert to 2005 figures seems like an obvious and highly political attempt at distorting normal bureaucratic procedure. If you think the Nineveh growth rate is suspect, please remember where Mosul was in terms of the insurgency in late 2004. Remember also that the 2005 figures are based on registered voters and not on total population. Tawafuq politicians explained back then that registration rates were low due to the particularly poor security situation around Mosul.

    As for the Sunni walkout I don’t think it was totally universal. I think I saw Ayad al-Samarraie remaining at his post as speaker throughout (though he has since criticised the amendments and may have wished he had been in Bahrain en route to Qatar, as he was last time), but I wonder whether Salim al-Jibburi at one point left the table where the rest of the legal committee sat. In an overlooked chapter to the drama, 16 parliamentarians remained in the chamber and voted against the majority to approve Hashemi’s suggestion re changes to the distribution of surplus seats in the governorates. (Hashemi had proposed that surplus seats be distributed to all entities, but the authors of the new amendment preferred winning entities only.) So there was at least some resistance inside the walls of parliament as well.

    Re “guaranteed” exiled seats: There never was such a thing and there is no such thing in the new amendment either. Not sure what this refers to, to be honest. The difference is that exiled voters are treated more in a similar fashion to domestic voters, since their vote is counted twice as per the normal procedure – first at the governorate level and then in the national roundup for compensation seats. That is the truly progressive part of the amendment.

    Salah, Hashemi is right when it comes to the legality of his veto, but it nevertheless turned out to be a tactical mistake, mostly because his idea of a “partial veto” was a fantasy. Nevertheless, once it materialised it would be better that the parliament dealt with its substantive content (primarily the procedures for the exiled votes) instead of introducing new elements that were bound to enrage an even greater number of Iraqis (such as the inexplicable reversion to the 2005 distribution key).

    Now that the veto is likely to materialise for a second time, the focus should be on safeguarding the progress already made in terms of how exiles will vote as well as initiating some kind of dialogue between the Kurds and the trade ministry in order that up-to-date population statistics may be used. Hopefully there will be parliamentary elections in Iraq also over the coming decade in which this law can be used, and it simply does not make sense that a general election law should artificially lock the distribution of seats between governorates to a particular point in a country’s history (and a rather sorry one at that) without allowing for future adjustments based on real demographic changes. This aspect of the amended law currently looks both cheap and primitive.

  14. aadil said

    Dear Reidar,
    I work for a coordination NGO in Amman with a focus on Iraq. Would it be possible for me to e-mail you directly?

  15. Reidar Visser said

    Dear Adil, by all means, please use rv (at)

  16. Salah said

    Hashemi is right when it comes to the legality of his veto, but it nevertheless turned out to be a tactical mistake

    Reidar, thanks for you thoughts I do agree with its was “ a tactical” move I don’t call it mistake as the other parties and body allied all together before and after its hard for other parties “nationalists” and other to make some changes and gain some power set by big folks.

    As you said “the Iraqi National Alliance (Hakim/Sadr/Jaafari), the State of Law Alliance (Maliki), and the Kurdistani Alliance (PUK/KDP) I think this not healthy alliance in long run for future of Iraq. As these parties have some close relations with one side of the politic reference which “Iran”?
    I do believe Iraqis all sort are far from accepting Iranians agenda on their country, yes may be some worm relation with some but the majority not.

    The veto planed my be was fast responses not reading all the surrounding, but defiantly makes winds and rethink again for others trying to put their old/new agenda on laws that produced from Iraqi parliament which for all Iraqis not portion of them.

    As you highlighted now the distributions of surplus seats come on fire and it’s really make no séance why should big wining parties taken them?

    I leave here I will be back again.

  17. Salah said

    أوضح البديري أن “القسم الأكبر من المتظاهرين فوجئوا بالتوجه لمكتب الحركة الوطنية بعدما قيل لهم إن التظاهرة من اجل حقوق السجناء السياسيين والشهداء، وإنها ستتوجه إلى مبنى المحافظة الجديد لأجل الضغط على الحكومة المحلية والمركزية بالإسراع في إعطاء الحقوق لهذه الشريحة التي ظلمها النظام السابق”.

    وبين أن “التظاهرة شارك في قيادتها عناصر بارزة في الحكومة المحلية، الذين قادوا المتظاهرين إلى مكتب الحركة وتلوا بيانا سياسيا ضدها، وهذا بحد ذاته إعلان عن مساندة الحكومة المحلية للتظاهرة التي أريد منها النيل بالحركة الوطنية العراقية ورئيسها وأمينها العام وأعضاء المكتب في المحافظة الذين تم تهديدهم بالتصفية الجسدية في حالة التواصل بعملهم الوطني”.

    المطلك يقاضي المالكي

  18. bb said

    “2005 statistics are obviously better than the 2009 ones. Or that the IMF macro statistics should be of any relevance to the per-governorate distribution of seats.”

    But I don’t think they’re “better” , or “worse”! My point was that, in the absence of a census, the 2009 ones were open to question, even more so since they were apparently “sprung on” after the first version of the law was passed.

    And they have been questioned, vigorously I gather. The result is a reversion to the status quo, which is not unusual in consensus democracies dealing with protracted controversies. Alternatively the Iraqi Supreme Court should decide, since everybody seems to celebrate its independence?

    My other point from the beginning is that single constituency PR is the fairest and most transparent electoral system there is. As soon as multi districts are introduced the system becomes open to the perception or reality of gerrymandering. Which is exactly what has happened in this case.

    Here in Australia our upper house (Senate) has PR voting based on State (governorate) representation, but the seats are 10 per state regardless of the population of the state.

    The IMF view was worth noting only in that its population estimate for Iraq is much lower than the MOT’s.

    Finally, it is not good government to base policy on “everybody knows”. Why hasn’t a census been held? Is it because the insurgency is still alive and kicking in Ninewah?

    btw – going back to the telecasts of the Iraqi parliament, I presume you are not in Baghad? So how do you get to view them in Norway? Is there some cable network or internet outlet that screens them?

  19. Reidar Visser said

    BB, unless you have satellite you need to use your computer. Transmission and reception quality varies. Al-Forat, Baghdad and Sharqiyya are usually ok. But note that I don’t claim to know the plain truth about Iraqi demographics on the basis of television broadcasts! I am only suggesting an argument that strikes me as plausible: Other variables being equal, official statistics that clearly hurt the “powers that be” have greater credibility than official statistics that support them.

    On the normative issues, I think you might be interested in the comment by Michael Hanna in today’s post, and with regard to the ministry of trade statistics and the political process connected with them please see the remarks by Sam Parker.

  20. bb said

    R, I know perfectly well your analyses are not based on TV broadcasts! My interest is in being able to watching some of its truly historic proceedings myself. A web link would be good?

  21. Reidar Visser said

    Here are a couple of examples from very different political perspectives – meaning the non-news entertainment is also very different!
    Again, their coverage of parliamentary proceedings is highly sporadic and often it is streamed as a recorded package.

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