Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for June 20th, 2010

The Bloc-Formation Soap Opera Drags On

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 20 June 2010 17:24

The exact details of the relevant communications last week between the Iraqi federal supreme court, the election commission (IHEC) and the leadership of the tentative new Shiite alliance (signed by Khalid al-Atiyya) have been slow to emerge,  but a number of secondary sources now seem to confirm the same kind of picture.

What essentially happened was that around the time of the opening of the Iraqi parliament on 14 June, leaders of the Shiite alliance project sent a letter to the federal supreme court “informing it” about the status of the Shiite alliance as the largest bloc in parliament (and hence, supposedly, the rightful supplier of a candidate to head the next Iraqi government). The court refused to even receive the letter, reportedly referring the Shiite leaders to IHEC instead. IHEC in turn replied that it was nothing it could do since the deadline for forming coalitions had expired long ago. The latest twist in the saga is that Khalid Atiyya, a former deputy speaker of parliament and a proponent of the new alliance, has published a lengthy account of his interpretation of the affair on the Iraqi parliament website, as if he were still in office and owned the place!

This remarkable sequence of events speaks volumes about the immature state of the Iraqi political process. In the first place, it was childish of the Shiite leaders to send a letter to the federal supreme court, since no legal certification procedure for political entities involving that court exists. Their request really had the character of a confused player desperately seeking some kind of almighty intervention: with no direct access to divine power, the federal supreme court apparently came across as a second best option. But the court, for its part, committed a mistake too. By reportedly directing the Shiite leaders to IHEC, they ignored the fact that parliamentary blocs (kutal) is simply a commodity in which IHEC does not do business. IHEC deals with electoral lists (qawa’im) and electoral coalitions (ittilafat) but the term “bloc” does not appear in its laws and regulations and vocabulary more generally, and its negative reply should have been anticipated both by the politicians and the judges.

This chaos in turn relates to the fact that bloc formation simply is not covered by any existing piece of legislation beyond the reference in article 76 of the constitution. In particular, its absence in the parliamentary bylaws adopted in 2006 is a striking omission: Here it is only mentioned en passant, although it is established that a bloc at least requires a leader or ra’is.

In fact, all we have to go by with respect to blocs is past practice in the period 2006-2010. So, just to recap, the original line-up of the Iraqi parliament as it convened in March 2006 consisted of 12 electoral lists that all transformed themselves into parliamentary blocs: UIA (128), KA (53), Tawafuq (44), Iraqiyya (25), Hiwar (11), Islamic Kurdistan (5), Musaliha wa Hiwar (3), Risaliyun (2), Mithal Alusi (1), Turkmen Front (1), Rafidayn (1) and Yazidis (1). When the parliamentary term expired four years later in February 2010, the map of blocs had changed considerably, with the total number now increased to 16: UIA (85), KA (53), Tawafuq (40), Sadrists (28), Iraqiyya (19), Fadila (15), Hiwar (9), Arab Independent Bloc (8), Islamic Kurdistan (5), Independents (4), Risaliyun (2), ICP (2), Alusi (1), Turkmen Front (1), Yazidis (1), Rafidayn (1).

The key point with regard to bloc formation precedents is that this process of disintegration (which has been the more common) and agglutination (seen more infrequently, for example in the case of the Arab Independent Bloc) has taken place without any reference to any law or authorising bodies whatsoever. So, when Iraqiyya leaders like Aliya Nusayf claim that in view of the latest communications from the federal supreme court and IHEC the door has now been “closed” for the Shiite coalition in legal terms, that is really besides the point. There is no legal mechanism for “certifying” the biggest bloc, period. At the end of the day, this is a question of interpretation and the only way to win the debate is for a bloc to obtain parliamentary support for a presidential candidate willing to declare it to be the biggest. With that president will ultimately rest the greater responsibility to the Iraqi electorate in terms of interpreting the result of the 7 March elections in a manner that does justice to the concept of democracy in Iraq.

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Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi constitutional issues | 8 Comments »