Iraq and Gulf Analysis

New Law Limits the Terms of Iraq’s Prime Minister

Posted by Reidar Visser on Sunday, 27 January 2013 9:26

A couple of points regarding the law on term limits for the “three presidencies” passed by the Iraqi parliament on Saturday.

  • The law limits the three presidencies (president proper, speaker of parliament and prime minister) to two terms, whether successive or not.
  • Whereas a limitation on the presidency to two terms is prescribed in the Iraqi constitution for the presidency proper, no such restriction appears with regard to the premiership. Maliki supporters is calling the law unconstitutional for this reason. It may be more correct to see the law as “extra-constitutional” (since the constitution is mute) but that does not mean the supreme court will not find problems with it.
  • Another noteworthy problem is that the law is a “proposed law” rather than a legislative project. In 2010, the Iraqi supreme court struck down another such “proposed law”, arguing that parliament had no right to initiate legislation other than making a proposal that would then have to pass through parliament. The supreme court may opt to strike down the bill simply for that reason.
  • Note that rejection of the bill is not automatic: It must be specifically challenged before the supreme court. Maliki will probably lose no time in doing so, but it should be added that at least a couple of dozens of “proposals” have indeed been passed into law apparently without such challenges over the past few years, and quite a few others are on their way. The sheer volume of this legislative action suggests the Iraqi supreme court may gradually find it harder and harder to defend what is arguably a somewhat contrived ruling.
  • It is noteworthy, too, that the law shows the Iraqi parliament can be effective when it wants. The bill was introduced, read and passed all in the single month of January.
  • The bill passed with 170 votes. That’s of course more than the magical 163 threshold that was not achieved when the sacking of Maliki was on the agenda last spring. Nonetheless, the bill is so clearly directed against Maliki personally that it should be taken to mean any other vote in parliament other than a non-confidence motion is potentially problematic to him. Maliki may hide behind supreme court activism that effectively confines the ability of parliament to legislate introduce bills or hold ministers accountable for the purpose of sacking them. But he needs to get a budget passed and handle acute tensions with the Kurdish federal government, some of which require legislative agreement. Maliki cannot survive merely on the basis of an amenable judiciary and populist gestures of an increasingly sectarian nature.

6 Responses to “New Law Limits the Terms of Iraq’s Prime Minister”

  1. Zaid said

    On the SC’s 2010 ruling, im not sure it is contrived. my view is that the ruling is not very democratic but it actually has a strong basis in the wording of the constitution. Article 60 says:

    (1) Draft laws shall be presented by the President of the Republic and the Council of Ministers.
    (2) Proposed laws shall be presented by ten members of the Council of Representatives or by one of its specialized committees.

    this wording cant really be interpreted in any way other than what the SC has decided. A draft law is a bill (a “mashrou3” in arabic), while a proposed law is merely a suggestion (a “muqtara7”). In Arab constitutional tradition, parliaments can make suggestions but those suggestions must be considered and approved by the government before they can be considered to be bills.

  2. Is the specific dichotomy of mashru/muqtara in force with that effect in other Arab parliamentary systems today?

  3. Seerwan said

    Reidar, are there any developed countries whose parliaments have no right to initiate legislation?
    I’m naturally assuming not, considering initiating legislation is the primary function of a legislature.

    Brother Zaid, how old is the Arab constitutional tradition of parliaments only able to make suggestions? Keeping mind the 20th century history of modern Arab governments to be either British-installed monarchies with weak parliaments or home-grown dictatorships; any actual republics have not existed…

  4. Seerwan, the EU parliament is in a similar position with respect to limited rights to introducing bills, although in the national parliaments in the EU countries, a right to legislative initiative normally exists. I have seen such limitations described for a couple of Latin American countries (I think it was Brazil and Chile), in at least periods of their democratic history.

    Zaid, there is also the question of the relatively high number of muqtarah bills that have indeed been passed into law (see link in article). One supposes the Iraqi parliament does not take this legislative action purely in order to create light entertainment for the Iraqi public! They must be acting on the basis of a belief that such legislation has a chance to stand.

  5. Zaid said

    To my knowledge, the dichotomy between bills and proposed laws exists in all arab countries, from Morocco to Iraq. Someone recently told me that it does not apply in Lebanon, but I doubt that is the case. I also know that Morocco has loosened the rule in its new constitution. The rule come from a very strong tradition of centralisation of just about all power into the hands of the executive. Parliaments were rubber stamp institutions, laws were actually written by the executive and not by parliament, the courts were subject to laws that were therefore written by the executive, etc. etc. Another element of deep centralisation it the lack of any meaningful devolution of powers to provinces.

    For the record, Egypt exported this model all over the region during the first part of the 20th century. many countries are still trying to deal with the consequences.

    On the second point (that the parliament has been voting on bills that haven’t been approved by the government), for me they are doing so probably in violation of the constitution and definitely in violation of the SCC’s rulings. However, this is another element of the struggle to prevent maliki from completely overtaking the state. the parliament probably figures that given that maliki is regularly flouting the constitution, there is no point in the parliament respecting its provisions to the letter. There is a seperate question as to whether this makes any difference given that many of the laws that are passed and approved by parliament without governments approval are not being applied in any event, for example, the law governing the Integrity Commission.

  6. Salah said

    Is he looking for 3rd term to continue his savage crime against Iraqis?
    In the past they screaming of savage dictator today they doing far more what the savage dictator done to Iraqis (I am talking here prisons treatments).

    وحش البشري

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