Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for September 20th, 2011

A Second Chamber for the Iraqi Parliament?

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 20 September 2011 19:47

Over the past few days there have been persistent reports that some leading members of Iraqiyya who have lost faith in the national council for high policies are contemplating reviving the debate about a senate in the Iraqi parliament as a potential substitute.

To some extent, there are positive aspects to this suggestion. Firstly, unlike the strategic council, the senate is already in the Iraqi constitution, even though its composition and prerogatives are ill-defined (article 65, which apparently was added to the constitutional draft in 2005 as a last-minute measure). Iraq has had a bicameral parliamentary structure in the past as well: The senate during the days of the monarchy was an appointed upper chamber to the “elected” first chamber. Potentially, then, a senate could serve as a deliberative forum that could supplement the existing parliament, not least since the appointment formula sketched out in the constitution –  two representatives per governorate and region – would produce a different political dynamic than that prevailing in the proportionally elected house of representatives. Indeed, when compared with the strategic policy council (which would largely comprise members of the existing government), the senate comes across as an institution that holds far greater promise for avoiding a mere duplication of the stalemates that currently dominate both the executive and the legislature in Iraq.

But there are also multiple problems connected with the senate. In the first place, the senate enjoys no specific prerogatives defined in the constitution. The explanation is probably very simple: The drafters of the constitution must have had a last-minute realisation that since they had rather unceremoniously transformed Iraq into a loose federation, they would need to add a second chamber since most good federations have one. An attempt to define the powers of the chamber was done during the unsuccessful attempt at revising the constitution in 2007–2009, but those powers indicated in the revision are not particularly strong and resemble that of many European second chambers, i.e. the senate has the power to delay but not to ultimately block the actions of the first chamber.  This is very far from what some Iraqiyya members (such as Nabil Harbo) have in mind when they declare that the second chamber will potentially have greater powers than the strategic policy council.

Even more importantly, there are special legal requirements and thresholds pertaining to the law for creating the senate: A two-thirds absolute majority or 216 deputies in the current parliament. This means that unless the senate is created as part of the special constitutional revision under article 142 (which can be done with an absolute-majority vote followed by a popular referendum), the senate, just like the projected federal supreme court, belongs to the realm of legislation requiring special-majority votes that seem unlikely to see the light of day anytime soon. 

The hard reality is that neither the senate nor the strategic policy council is likely to come into existence or give Iraqiyya what they are seeking. If they are objective, they would instead notice that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki currently has problems both with the Kurds and his fellow Shiite Islamists (including most recently Sabah al-Saadi, an independent, and Kazim al-Sayadi, a Sadrist). Negotiating with him directly seems to remain a far more realistic way of winning real power.

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