Iraq’s constitutional crisis reaches boiling point

While the total breakdown of the electoral process is evident, the fact may not be something candidates concede any time soon.
Sunday 08/07/2018
For the time being. A file picture shows Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sitting during a session at the parliament headquarters in Baghdad. (Reuters)
For the time being. A file picture shows Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi sitting during a session at the parliament headquarters in Baghdad. (Reuters)

The dissolution of Iraq’s parliament on June 30 opened a new chapter in the country’s long-evolving constitutional crisis, as political contests boil to the surface. Voter turnout in the latest parliamentary elections was the lowest since the ousting of the Ba’ath regime, producing no clear victors.

Until the results of disputed elections are agreed upon, a new administration cannot fill the existing vacuum but Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has stepped in to head a caretaker government.

The attempt to extend parliament’s term thickened the fog of uncertainty. The vote to extend parliament’s shelf life failed to inspire the required quorum. Ahead of the vote, select candidates, including the Iran-backed Islamic Supreme Council offspring — the National Wisdom Movement — headed by Ammar al-Hakim, threatened resignation should the vote pass; rivals, including parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Jabouri, warned of a constitutional vacuum that, he alleged, may rob Iraq’s democracy of its legitimacy.

In absence of an active legislative body to remedy matters of voter fraud, missing ballots and the illegal sale of identification cards, the looming crisis of governance will be impossible to quell.

Analysts view the recount of contested votes as a bid to assuage society’s thirst for truth. The Federal Supreme Court of Iraq agreed to undertake only a “partial recount.” The justification is “to preserve” the votes and will of the Iraqi people, despite record-high abstention and fraud allegation against the Independent High Electoral Commission, whose board of commissions has been replaced with jurists.

The more extreme forecast, as called for by the Iraqi Commission of Inquiry, is the potential annulment of Iraq’s parliamentary election results. Prime Minister of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Nechirvan Barzani likened the saga to the World Cup, “full of surprises,” he said, injecting breezy humour into the heated debate. “No one knows what will happen.”

Notwithstanding the risks, some officials, including MP Mohammed Nuri Abdul Rabo, have defended the manual recount exercise, calling it a necessity to address valid suspicions of electoral meddling. The absence of a recommended time frame to handle these prickly matters adds to the uncertainty and ambiguity.

The presiding cadre of politicians appears unable to agree on which of the two options better serves the future of the country and its multiethnic communities. Both results offer no sturdy foundation on which effective political action can be taken against, which jointly spell failed governance, as some analysts portend.

While the total breakdown of the electoral process is evident, the fact may not be something candidates concede any time soon. Equally, the foundations on which a new government is formed will be shaky, threatening the very core of the political structures that keep the same faces governing the oil-wealthy nation since 2003 in power.

English-language media reports whitewash dissent and criticism directed at Iraq’s abortive political process. Iraq’s incumbents have lost the faith of the Iraqi people and, as a constitutional crisis quietly boils, the masses are unlikely to keep their silence.

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