Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for March, 2014

One Month ahead of the 30 April Iraq Vote, an Electoral Commission Showdown

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 23:55

On Tuesday, the members of the Iraqi electoral commission IHEC collectively presented their resignations to the head of the commission. If the mass resignation becomes effective, it will leave Iraq without the required institutional framework to carry out parliamentary elections scheduled for 30 April.

First a word on the legal aspects of the resignations. It has been suggested by both Sadrists and ISCI leader Ammar al-Hakim that the resignations are subject to approval by the Iraqi parliament. This view does not seem to square with law no. 11 from 2007 that regulates the work of the commission. In article 6, first, it is stipulated that the membership of commissioners can be terminated upon presentation of a resignation according to the bylaws of the commission. There is no mention of parliament at all. The bylaws of IHEC, adopted in 2013 (PDF here, starts on p. 21), stipulate that any member can present their resignation to the commission and that it will become effective after 30 days unless other action is taken. The collective resignation presented to the head of the commission does seem somewhat unorthodox in that respect, but there seems to be no doubt that legally the matter remains within the commission itself.

As for the substantive context, it is fairly clear that the resignation of the IHEC members comes as a response to the latest legislative action by the Iraqi parliament. This aimed at enshrining a particular interpretation of the Iraqi election’s law concept of “good conduct” as a criterion for election candidacies. Specifically, through its focus on the presumption of innocence parliament effectively negated IHEC’s past practice of using multiple legal charges against an individual (without conviction) as basis for banning them from standing in elections. Of course, to what extent it is within the power of the Iraqi parliament to adopt a simple “decision” in order to rectify the vagueness of its own past legislative efforts is open to debate. In the past, such decisions have materialized from time to time, for example in December 2009 when it was used to enshrine the exact distribution of seats between provinces (conversely, in November 2013 when the new election law was passed, an attachment to the law itself stipulated the seat distribution). Conceivably, a more correct (but more time-consuming) method for challenging what is  perceived as IHEC highhandedness in banning election candidates would be to complain the procedures to the administrative court (rather than the supreme court), which deals with the application of laws in force, and which could in theory address the methods used to determine what constitutes “good conduct”.

In any case, the comparable parliament “decision” from 2009 on seat distribution was adhered to, of course, not least because it reflected a consensus that had emerged after months of parliamentary wrangling.  This time things are very different. It is fairly clear that the parliament action to define “good conduct” was taken by enemies of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in parliament (chiefly the bloc of parliament speaker Nujayfi along with some Shiite discontent support) who were concerned about possible collusion between the PM and the Iraqi judiciary in excluding political enemies from the next elections. For his part, Maliki has responded to the parliamentary move by questioning its legal status, describing it as an “incomplete” legislative act, thereby evoking past supreme court rulings that basically stipulate that every legislative act in Iraq should pass through the cabinet before becoming law. Reflecting the changing political colour of the commission seated in September 2012, thought to be more favourable to Maliki than the previous one, IHEC has implicitly come out on the side of Maliki in this debate. (Possibly due to laziness, some pundits have construed the current conflict as a case of IHEC standing up against Maliki: They should carefully study the chronology of events and how the recent parliament decision immediately prompted an IHEC escalation, as well as this interview with one of the commission members, which at one point goes far in criticising parliament interference with the electoral judicial panel).

The decision by parliament itself should be appealable to the federal supreme court as a matter of constitutional interpretation. Indeed, if Maliki wants to avoid speculation that he is sincere about having elections on time, he should probably file such a complaint in any case.

In all of this is it is noteworthy how the battle lines have changed somewhat from 2010, when there was also a pre-election struggle related to candidacy qualifications. Back then, the struggle related to de-Baathifcation, and the tension increasingly took on a sectarian nature. So far, despite heightened sectarian tension regionally, de-Baathification has been in the background this year, with the MPs complaining about exclusion from the upcoming elections representing both Sunni and Shiite-leaning political parties. But the elections lists must be published soon if there is to be any time left for campaigning, and there could of course be surprises hidden in them.

All in all, Iraq is beginning to look dysfunctional. The president is incapacitated, the annual budget has not been passed, and now the threatened IHEC resignation. And yet there is something quintessentially Iraqi about resignation threats – a staple of Iraqi politics since the days of the British mandate. It will be remembered that half of the Sunni and secular politicians in parliament recently threatened to resign without following through. There may still be possibilities for compromises ahead of 30 April, but time is fast running out.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

In the Conflict over Electoral Candidacies, the Iraq Parliament Stands up for the Presumption of Innocence

Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 19 March 2014 19:41

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Following a session on Sunday featuring MPs supportive of PM Maliki’s moves to pass the annual budget ahead of 30 April elections, the Iraqi parliament today brought together a group of MPs critical of Maliki. In a symbolically important move, the assembly passed a measure of interpreting the elections law that effectively challenges Maliki’s use of the Iraqi judiciary to bar political enemies from standing in the elections.

The move in itself represents a somewhat ambiguous parliamentary act, referred to in the official parliamentary proceedings as a “legislative decision” (qarar tashriyi). Its essence involves a more specific interpretation of article 8, third, of the new Iraqi elections law that was passed in late 2013. That law, like previous laws, had vaguely specified that candidates must be known to be of “good behaviour” or “good standing”. In practice this has been used until now to disqualify candidates for whom arrest orders may exist. (Maliki aide Tareq Harb has provided a wonderful exegesis of how this works in practice: One arrest order or charge does not suffice, but where there are multiple orders this is used to disqualify!) The parliament decision today is emphatic that an actual conviction must have ensued for there to be legal grounds for barring a candidate.

Essentially, the message from the Iraqi parliament is that, until a court of law has considered the case, statements by the Iraqi prosecution or police are of no relevance as far as the candidature of an individual is concerned. The decision today specifically refers to the presumption of innocence, stressing that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. This point is worthy of repetition after a series of politically tainted prosecution attempts. Still, it should be mentioned that the decision today appears to be the direct result of the fact that several existing MPs were themselves attempted barred from the elections, a fact which the official parliament record actually quotes.

The number of deputies supporting the motion – 165 – is interesting. It is more or less the same as the 164 deputies who supported the first reading of the annual budget on Sunday in a move seen as pro-Maliki. The 325-member Iraqi parliament is in another words divided in two halves, with at least a handful of deputies wavering between the two camps.

The parliament session today concluded with adjournment “until further notice”. Parliament speaker Nujayfi may be able to effectively filibuster the meetings of the assembly in this way, but it will be increasingly difficult for him to explain to the Iraqi public why no parliament meetings are being held and why parliament is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to pass the annual budget. The absence of political consensus is not an  argument since there is no constitutional requirement that decisions be passed with consensus. A key question going forward is whether the deputies seen to be wavering between the Maliki and Nujayfi camps this week will move more decisively one way or another over the coming period.

Posted in Iraq parliamentary elections 2014, Rule of law | Comments Off on In the Conflict over Electoral Candidacies, the Iraq Parliament Stands up for the Presumption of Innocence

The Iraqi Parliament Completes the First Reading of the 2014 Annual Budget

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 17 March 2014 14:23

In a significant move, the Iraqi parliament has completed the first passage of the 2014 annual budget despite boycotts by the Kurds and the Mutahhidun bloc loyal to the parliament speaker, Usama al-Nujayfi.

The sheer arithmetic behind the successful quorum at Sunday’s session speaks volumes about shifting political winds in Iraq ahead of the 30 April parliament elections. In order to go ahead with the first reading, 163 MPs needed to be present to reach the legal minimum requirement for taking parliamentary action. According to the official parliament record, 164 deputies attended. In the context of boycotts by Kurds and Mutahhidun alike, this is a remarkable achievement. It means, firstly, that the Shia bloc in parliament is exhibiting internal discipline at a level not seen since 2005. Altogether the three main Shiite factions – State of Law, Muwatin and the Sadrists – command around 161 deputy votes. The numbers suggest that despite internal turmoil among the Sadrists (or because of it?) a majority of these deputies will have been present during the budget reading. Whereas previous occasions involving Kurdish opposition to Maliki have seen widespread ISCI solidarity with the Kurds, no such major Shiite challenge to Maliki appears to have materialized this time around. But beyond this, importantly, there must have been some MPs from the Sunni and secular camps attending as well. The numbers don’t lie: even on a good day, there are no more than aroundd 160 Shiite Islamist MPs, and most of the handful of minority MPs from small non-Muslim groups and ethnic micro-minorities are loyal to the Kurds. Accordingly, in the context of continued criticism of PM Maliki by Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi, it makes sense to assume that at least some of the breakaway elements of Iraqiyya that materialized in 2012 were present to secure the necessary quorum.

Substantially speaking, the conflict involves primarily Kurdish opposition to proposed measures of control regarding oil export from the Kurdish areas. For their part, the Sunni Mutahiddun appear to be boycotting more out of personal opposition to Maliki than a coherent anti-centralism agenda (although the tendency in the latter direction is more pronounced today than it was a couple of years ago). It is interesting that Maliki is using the issue of the budget and the question of Kurdish oil exports to mobilize popular opinion ahead of the elections. This is unprecedented: In 2010, neither the question of Kirkuk nor the budget tension was brought to the fore in a big way. At the same time, when seen within the context of the election campaign more generally, this is Shia chauvinism within a shell of Iraqi nationalism, quite different, for example, from the 22 July movement of 2008 focused on representation issues in the Kirkuk provincial council. Alongside assertiveness on the part of the central government in oil issues comes new governorate proposals clearly speaking to Shia Turkmen minorities, as well as the cabinet’s recent passage of retrograde Shia personal status law that would enable underage marriage – an apparent concession by Maliki to hardliners in the Fadila party ahead of the elections.

Still, this is only the first reading of the budget. Parliament speaker Nujayfi will be able to stage filibuster-like obstacles to delay the second reading and the decisive vote. It is however noteworthy that Nujayfi himself chose to be present and chair the budget first reading on Sunday, quite despite his own bloc’s boycott.

Three further parliament meetings are scheduled for this week. For now, the second budget reading is not on the agenda.

Posted in Federalism in Sunni-Majority Areas of Iraq, Oil in Iraq, UIA dynamics, Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Iraqi Parliament Completes the First Reading of the 2014 Annual Budget