Iraqi parliament’s term ends before resolving election crisis

A disagreement about who will be the country’s next prime minister is the primary reason for the delay in forming a coalition.
Sunday 01/07/2018
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (R) attends a news conference with Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf, on June 23.  (AFP)
Sinking differences. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (R) attends a news conference with Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf, on June 23. (AFP)

LONDON - The term of the Iraqi parliament ended June 30 before a manual recount of votes from Iraq’s May national election could take place, leaving the country without a legislative body in the face of widespread voter fraud allegations.

The recount, expected to start in early July, is to be overseen by a panel of judges as ordered by the outgoing parliament and endorsed by the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq.

Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud had announced that all 11 million ballots cast in the May vote would have to be recounted but the appointed judges declared that the recount would only involve problematic ballots from polling centres where candidates filed complaints and sites of official reports of suspected fraud, said Laith Hamza, the judges’ spokesman.

Once the final election results are ratified, the new lawmakers can take their seats in parliament. Some outgoing lawmakers sought to extend the mandate of the current parliament but the move was deemed unconstitutional.

“I do not want to interfere in legislative work but I remember in 2010… law experts, politicians, judges and the federal court failed to find constitutional grounds to extend parliament’s term,” said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “The federal court was clear in saying [last January] that there is no constitutional text that would allow for the extension of parliament’s term.”

Abadi’s government is constitutionally authorised to run the country until a new government is formed.

The prime minister, whose Victory Alliance finished third in the elections, agreed to a coalition with influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose Marching Towards Reform bloc won the most seats in parliament.

“We announce a cross-sectarian, cross-ethnic alliance to speed up forming the next government and to agree on common points that guarantee the interests of the Iraqi people,” al-Sadr said at a news conference with Abadi in Najaf.

Al-Sadr also made an alliance with militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, whose Conquest Alliance was second in the race. Before that, al-Sadr joined with the National Wisdom Movement, headed by Ammar al-Hakim and the National Alliance, led by Vice-President Ayad Allawi.

Iraqi political commentators termed the alliances “initial understandings” that have yet to be finalised. It’s not clear if the alliances will all be part of a united front led by al-Sadr because some members may not wish to work with each other.

“The [Shia] leaders, like their Sunni and Kurdish counterparts, have personal problems among each other. Their differences are personal,” Bahaa al-Araji, former deputy prime minister, told Al Sharqiya television.

A disagreement about who will be the country’s next prime minister is the primary reason for the delay in forming a coalition, Araji said. Adnan al-Assadi a former deputy interior minister, appearing on the same programme, also said “the basic problem” was agreeing on a prime minister.

An alliance of al-Sadr, Amiri and Abadi would create a Shia-dominated government, which would be counter to election promises by al-Sadr and Abadi of a more-inclusive government.

Such a government would be welcomed by Iran, which yields great influence in Iraq and has pushed for a Shia-dominated state, but Iraqi leaders may not risk creating a conflict with the United States.

“[Al-Sadr and Amiri] both view the US as a negative actor in Iraq, in so far as the US is looking to pursue its interests at the expense of what they would see as Iraq’s interests. Nonetheless, they both also realise that to become statesmen, and to play politics, you can’t have an explicitly inflammatory or antagonistic policy against the US,” Renad Mansour, a fellow at Chatham House, told the Public Broadcasting Service in the United States.

Iraqis, however, are likely to need more than just a government that gets along with Iran and the United States to face the challenges of corruption, sectarianism, reconstruction, unemployment and a struggling economy.

Keeping the status quo when many voted for change may worsen the impact of the voter fraud crisis. 

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