January 21, 2018

Iraqi lawmakers split over election date

Kurdish opposition politicians have backed the central government’s bid to have elections in May.
A bus displays a poster advising people to check about their voting information ahead of Iraq’s parliamentary elections, on January 16

London - Iraqi parliament members, in a heated session, failed to agree on whether to delay the up­coming elections or have them as planned. Another session on the matter was announced and observers said they expect parlia­ment to vote to have elections May 12, as scheduled.

Lawmakers from the Shia-led ruling National Alliance bloc insist­ed on having the elections on time, arguing that a delay would leave the country without a parliament for at least a brief period. The con­stitution bans lawmakers from go­ing to parliament once their man­date has expired.

Sunni Arab and Turkmen law­makers called for a delay in the elections so internally displaced voters, especially in areas liberated from the Islamic State (ISIS), may be able to cast ballots in time.

Lawmakers from the two main Kurdish parties — the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) — are also in dispute over when to have the elections for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). The KDP said it wants the regional elec­tions before the national vote, while the PUK wants to have the KRG vote in September.

Kurdish opposition politicians have backed the central govern­ment’s bid to have the national elections in May, calling on Bagh­dad to help supervise the regional vote because they do not trust the KDP and PUK.

“Opposition parties say the elec­toral rolls are out of date and that the system contains up to as many as 400,000 fake names,” wrote Ho­nar Hama Rasheed on the website Niqash.org.

Others gave a higher estimate. Sarwar Abdulrahman, the head of Pay Institute for Education and Development, said there are more than 900,000 fake names on KRG election rolls, which would make up approximately 40 parliamen­tary seats.

Allegations of vote fraud are not limited to the Kurdistan region and many Iraqis called for the newly in­troduced biometric voting card to be used by voters across the coun­try because old ones are said to be easily forged.

Iraq’s Independent High Elec­toral Commission (IHEC) insisted it was ready to run the elections for everyone as scheduled. It dis­missed fears about voting fraud, promising to provide all voters with new voter cards, whether bio­metric or not.

“The commission will take ad­ditional measures… and extraordi­nary plans [to ensure efficient elec­tions],” IHEC spokesman Karim al-Tamimi told al-Sharqiya TV.

The row over delaying the elec­tions prompted the United States to side with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who rejected put­ting back the vote.

“Postponing the elections would set a dangerous precedent, under­mining the constitution and dam­aging Iraq’s long-term democratic development,” the US Embassy in Baghdad said in a statement.

“The United States is providing assistance that will help ensure that all Iraqi voices are heard and counted, including the approxi­mately 2.6 million Iraqis who re­main displaced from their homes in the liberated areas,” the state­ment said.

Abadi launched an online appeal for allies to join his election list al- Nasr (Victory) in a bid to bypass the country’s traditional selection routes of political parties or tribes.

An unlikely alliance between the prime minister and former lead­ers of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) ended one day after it was announced, drawing broad condemnation from supporters of Abadi who did not want him to join forces with militia chiefs.

It was likely that Abadi was try­ing to secure an alliance with the PMF before Iraqi Vice-President Nuri al-Maliki, a more serious com­petitor, reaches out to militia lead­ers. Nevertheless, the move back­fired and Abadi was criticised by Sunni, Kurdish and even Shia sup­porters, such as influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

“The religious authority used to respect Abadi and appreciate him but it is hard to understand this most recent move,” a Najaf-based cleric close to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani told Niqash.com on con­dition of anonymity.

Maliki appears to be forging an alliance with one of his former foes — KDP leader and former KRG Pres­ident Masoud Barzani.

“A Maliki-Barzani reconciliation will aim to give Maliki the premier­ship again and bring Barzani back to the Kurdistan leadership,” wrote Mustafa Saadoun in website Al- Monitor.

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