Iraq and Gulf Analysis

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.

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