Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for November 28th, 2010

The New Realities of the Iraqi Presidency

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 28 November 2010 19:30

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was the main victor in the 10 November political agreement that would be first to publicly point out the deeper significance of parliament’s vote on Jalal Talabani on 11 November: The powerful presidency council is now dead.

Of course, everyone who has read the Iraqi constitution will have been aware of this for many months or maybe even years. The tripartite presidency with veto powers was a one-off transitional arrangement stipulated to last for the first parliamentary cycle from 2005 to 2010 only, to be superseded by the more ceremonial “ordinary” presidency, without veto power. Nonetheless, even though the constitution is perfectly clear, there has been some confusion about this subject in the Iraqi press, with some journalists even believing that the two deputies of Talabani in the presidency council remained in office and were still vice presidents beyond 11 November!

Today, however, Husayn al-Asadi of State of Law made this point very publicly in two ways. Firstly, he emphasised that the new presidency has no veto powers. Secondly, he suggested that there would be three deputies to the president going forward, rather than just two. Since the deputies will have less power than the essentially powerless president they are pretty meaningless in the government formation process, even though some players still seem to have an interest in them for unclear reasons. The key point, though, is Asadi’s revolt against the tripartite formula since in his vision there would be four people involved altogether, presumably from the four biggest blocs. This reflects the constitution, which unlike in the case of the presidency council with its explicit three-person formula does not specify the number of deputies for the ordinary president. It just says it should be “one or more”. So it could be three, as per Asadi’s ideas; it might as well be twenty-four since these deputies will not have any power anyway. With the current level of inflation in Iraqi politics, there still seems to be a market for “deputy presidents” and “deputy premiers” for candidates that are necessary to placate and who would normally be given a ministry without portfolio.

It should be added that Talabani’s own election to the ordinary presidency was not one hundred percent constitutional, since the law called for in the constitution for selecting the president has not been passed. Nonetheless, in contrast to the situation for his deputies – which arguably cannot be elected at this point since the constitution also calls for a law for their election and, importantly, a specification of their numbers – the modalities for the president’s election are pretty much spelt out in the constitution anyway. It would be a far greater constitutional infraction to try to hold on to the presidency council, as some Iraqi lawyers such as Muayyad al-Izzi have suggested. In fact, if an attempt were made at this stage to resuscitate the presidency council, it would be necessary to cancel the election of Talabani on 11 November and his subsequent nomination of Maliki for a second term, since he was clearly elected on the basis of the constitutional article 70 (the ordinary presidency) and not 138 (the transitional presidency council).

Of course Izzi was not the only one to misread the constitution. Another one was Joe Biden, who induced the US president to personally make phone calls to the Kurds in a desperate attempt to make them hand over the essentially valueless presidency to Iraqiyya instead. These overtures met with humiliating rejections since Talabani was interested in the presidency personally, even though to Kurdish interests as a whole it was a less rational move and one which might jeopardise their chances of getting hold of something truly important, like the oil ministry. But to other players, the insignificance of the deputy president position should now become clearer, with likely intensification of the competition for the jobs that do matter to follow.

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