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“Opposition parties say the electoral rolls are out of date and that the system contains up to as many as 400,000 fake names,” wrote Honar Hama Rasheed on the website Niqash.org.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