Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

14 Responses to “A Second Chamber for the Iraqi Parliament?”

  1. Santana said

    You started off by saying some Iraqiya members are suggesting this Senate idea in leiu of the NCHP….do you still think Maliki cares what Iraqiya members want or suggest?? the cold hard facts of life in Baghdad has taught us (or me at least) that Maliki couldn’t care less what Iraqiya suggests….he is very happy with the current status quo…even the rush for Security Ministers is not what it was…Maliki holds all the cards, backed by Iran and U.S and has no interest in keeping Iraqiya happy.
    Even your other suggestion of direct negotiations with him won’t work because- again- he is not motivated to do anything. His days of compromise and flexibility ended the day he officially became PM again with Iran’s help.

    I don’t mean to sound negative just realistic, cuz I honestly don’t see any real options here.

    I think Maliki has a new rubber stamp on his desk with the letters “GTH” – he uses this stamp on any submitted suggestions from Iraqiya….it means- “Go To Hell”

  2. Reidar Visser said

    I guess my point is that both the NHCP and the senate (or fresh elections) are so totally unrealistic no matter what Maliki may think, simply because of the numbers games involved. Much of what you’re saying about Maliki may well be true, but I still believe the route I describe is somewhat less unrealistic among the many unrealistic options before Iraqiyya. After all, Maliki would probably prefer to avoid reliance on Iran if he could find another alternative.

    By the way, do you know whether there is anything substantive to this story about three different trends in Iraqiyya re relations to the Kurds etc?

    http://www.nakhelnews.com/pages/news.php?nid=10774

    Unnamed source and could be just slander of course.

  3. Santana said

    Thanks Reidar-

    It is no secret to say that there are different opinions within Iraqiya as far as how to deal with the Kurds and with Maliki- but it is still a very fluid situation and I am getting bits and pieces from several leaders constantly since yesterday- I will know within 48 hours where everyone stands but please beware that I may not be able to publish on here if it compromises Iraqiya in any way- I hope you understand.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    There is now a NYT report to the effect that Ali al-Musawi, a Maliki adviser, says Assad should go.

    Which is interesting for many reasons, including the fact that Musawi is supposed to be someone who favours better links between State of Law and Iraqiyya.

    It is the first time I can recall someone from State of Law making such a clear statement on the Syria issue.

  5. Zaid said

    For the record, the way Reidar describes the manner in which article 65 came into existence isn’t exactly right. from the start of the constitutional drafting process, there was an agreement that the parliament should have a second chamber. just about every draft that was circulated contained provisions about how the second chamber should be composed. the problem wasn’t the basic principle – the problem was that the drafters couldn’t agree how the second chamber should be composed. they couldn’t agree whether all governorates should have the same number of seats, and if not how each governorate’s number of seats should be determined. various mechanisms were explored but they didn’t get close to an agreement because everyone suspected that all other sides were seeking to secure some form of permanent advantage. therefore article 65 was included at the last minute but only because all the other draft provisions were dropped.

  6. Mark said

    Al Maliki is going for dictatorship just like saddam, I think no one will vote for him. It’s time for Aliraqiyya list to take their chance ruling the country, even though I doubt they will be any better than Al Maliki..

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Zaid, many thanks. I stand by what I said in as much that I think article 65 looks contrived and ad hoc, even if the process leading up to that result was more complex, as you describe. In the end, the article did stipulate the formula of representation, but left pretty much else unspecified. I think it is the failure to define prerogatives for the chamber that is the biggest problem.

    Mark, there is probably nothing Iraqiyya can do to bring about Maliki’s downfall; it’s all just talk.

  8. The Senate idea seems sensible cause for Iraqi nationalists who concede that reforms must start with current structures rather than from scratch.

    The senate may well be feasible in practice as you suggest, a way out from the dead-end NHCP. Politicians across the blocks must be looking for a constitutional safety net, as well as for a venue for their own ‘statesmanship’ once they grow out of infantile and predatory politics.

    The current composition and role of the Senate could be widened in time. I suggest there is a popular desire, across the political divides, for experienced honest technocrats to be given a political voice through such a second chamber.

    Is there a second chamber model you know of, which ensures a quota for universities, medical and legal professions, and similar civil society organisations?

  9. Santana said

    Reidar,

    Seems that Ali Al-Mussawi got chewed out pretty good by Maliki or Qassem Sulaimani for his comments about Assad – he is now denying it all…

    http://www.burathanews.com/news_article_136775.html

  10. Reidar Visser said

    Mundher, the one example that I can think of right now is Ireland which has a vocational/university-based selection formula for large parts of its senate.

  11. Kermanshahi said

    A senate could be good to put a check on the power of al-Maliki and prevent him from developing even more dictatorial traits, however I think it will more likely make the Iraqi legislature even less productive and more chaotic than it already is now.

  12. Thanks, Reidar, for pointing to the Irish Senate as a current second chamber with assured professional and academic presence. It seems to have served them well as a moderating influence on populist diverse Irish stands from the 1930s.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seanad_%C3%89ireann

    I am sure your readers with influence on Iraqi politics would find the Irish experiment worthwhile. Most of the 60 senators have affiliations with dominant parties in the elected chamber, which would assuage the current political actors. But there is a certain mix.

    Some senators are chosen by the Prime Minister to cater for disadvantaged groups etc.. Some are elected by university graduates, and two thirds elected by Vocational Panels. These panels are made up from elected national and local deputies with specialist knowledge. They decide on nominating bodies, which would engage the professions and the various communities, then elect worthy senators in:

    * Public administration and social services
    * Agriculture and the fisheries.
    * Education, the arts, culture and literature.
    * Industry and commerce
    * Labour.

    An Iraqi version may have a different balance of panels. Discussions on this issue, and acceptance that the composition would be revised every decade, say, could be a healthy diversion from the sterile Muhassassa and sharing of spoils.

    ( A web page, http://www.senat.fr/senatsdumonde/introenglish.html
    mentions 72 current Senates, half with some indirect elections, like the Irish. )

  13. I just read you previous post on the politics of the incident in Nukhayb. I recall how much the subject of disputed territories occupied my time when I was a political analyst in Baghdad. Embarrasingly, the more “high-profile” areas like Khanaqin, Kirkuk, and other places along the KRG border diverted our focus to the point where I was not even aware of these other territorial disputes. Here is another I was unaware of, between Al Muthanna and Dhi Qar http://en.aswataliraq.info/Default1.aspx?page=article_page&id=85319&l=1 . I don’t know if it has even been resolved.

  14. Reidar Visser said

    Nicholas, this is the domino effect I fear if the disputed-territories concept gains widespread acceptance. The logical conclusion would be to have Dohuk revert to Mosul, of which it was part prior to the 1970s!

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