Maliki on Track towards Forming the Next Government
Posted by Reidar Visser on Saturday, 18 December 2010 13:57
UPDATE 20 December 2010: Maliki will reportedly present a partial list of ministers to the Iraqi parliament this afternoon at 4 PM Baghdad time.
UPDATE (2) Maliki may meet Nujayfi tonight but no parliamentary action on the candidates is exptected until tomorrow, at the earliest.
After a stormy session in the Iraqi parliament today which saw both the lifting of de-Baathification measures against three members of Iraqiyya and the withdrawal of Kurdish deputies in protest against the first reading of the budget, it seems as if Nuri al-Maliki, once more, is on track with his agenda for the next government. One of the least noticed items of important news out of Iraq so far is a statement by Safa al-Din al-Safi that Maliki intends to present his cabinet early next week.
Before he does that, it will be interesting to follow the recalibration of parliamentary factionalism that is necessary in order for the next government to achieve the 163 votes it needs. For Iraqiyya, the outcome of today’s session was a mixed bag. The acquittal of Salih al-Mutlak, Zafir al-Ani and Jamal al-Karbuli was logical in so far that their de-Baathification appeared questionable in the first place; however the way it was done today was decidedly messy. By lifting the sanctions against the three, parliament was acting in an extrajudicial way, reportedly on the basis of signed letters in which the three members disavowed any links with the Baath party (some reports suggest a fourth member, Rasim al-Awwadi, failed to produce this kind of letter). A more proper course of action by parliament would have been to sack the de-Baathification committee, enact legislation under chapter 7 of the constitution, or revise the accountability and justice law of 2008. Conversely, by infringing on the authority of the judiciary, it produced a decision that smacks of cliquishness in its narrow focus on three privileged members of Iraqiyya. What about the thousands of other Iraqis that have been targeted by the de-Baathification committee without due process?
Be that as it may, one does get the impression that Iraqiyya leaders are increasingly coming to terms with the prospect of a second Maliki premiership. In so doing, they appear to be following their own agenda rather than the American one, which was always focused on some kind of formal power-sharing through the presidency or more recently via the elusive “national council for high/strategic/whatever policies”. With Maliki possibly pressing for a vote on the next government as early as next week, the prospect of legislating the American-sponsored council before the vote seems increasingly unrealistic – a tendency that was just strengthened by the, um, American-led initiative to pour praise on Maliki in the UN Security Council recently. Symptomatically, perhaps, Rafi al-Eisawi of Iraqiyya was reported as having discussed the proposed law for the council with the US ambassador last week; a more realistic course of action, on his part, would of course have been to engage National Alliance leaders close to Maliki on the subject.
The interesting thing is that Iraqiyya appears to be responding to this new situation with relative calm. Today’s meeting in parliament was characterised by relative harmony between the two sides, with the speaker of parliament, Usama al-Nujayfi, making a big point of congratulating the Shiites on the Ashura holiday, Ayad Allawi returning to parliament and sitting in close proximity to Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ahmad Chalabi, and Rafi al-Eisawi taking the constitutional oath as a member of parliament – thereby effectively resigning as vice premier and signalling that the end of the first Maliki government must indeed be near. Instead, it was the old tension between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the rest of Iraq that came to dominate the session, as Kurdish members (and the deputy speaker) withdrew from the assembly or opted to protest against the first reading of it. Sources in PUK and Goran suggest the core of the protest had to do with the percentage of state revenue set aside for the KRG or ways in which Baghdad was attempting to make it conditional on Kurdish behaviour regarding oil exports; technically, however, it unfolded as a procedural protest against proceeding with the first reading of the budget without it having been considered in the financial committee first. In so doing, the Kurds appear to be right according to article 128 of the parliament bylaws:
المادة رقم (128)
يحيل رئيس مجلس النواب مشروعات القوانين المقدمة من السلطة التنفيذية الى اللجان المختصة، لدراستها وأبداء الرأي فيها قبل عرضها على المجلس لمناقشتها على ان يجري ذلك بحضور ممثل عن اللجنة مقدمة المشروع.
Politically, of course, it is more interesting that Nujayfi of Iraqiyya proceeded to overrule the Kurdish representative Khalid Shwani on this point and let Baqir Solagh, the outgoing finance minister of ISCI, proceed with reading the draft budget without the Kurdish deputy speaker present on his left hand.
In some ways, the sudden tendency of National Alliance leaders over the past few weeks to focus on the constitutional deadline for forming the government (which expires on 24 December) seemed to suggest that it was moving ahead to pre-empt any bids by Iraqiyya to legislate the council for national and instead rely on the “political majority” concept to simply reach the 163 threshold. Today’s developments, the apparent tendency of Iraqiyya leaders to be satisfied with less, and even rumours that Hussein al-Shahristani may keep the oil minister job in the next government all raise the question of whether Iraqiyya or the Kurds will be the main contributor to that majority. That in turn, of course, would inevitably prompt another question: Does Maliki really need all the 30 plus ministers that are currently under discussion when he theoretically has the option of forming a governance-oriented majority instead?
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