Political Crisis Cancelled, Provincial Elections Next in Iraq?
The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
During the course of the past month, the move to unseat Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, has gradually faded in strength. Within the last week, the top Sadrist leadership formally changed their position on sacking Maliki.
For their part, leading Kurds complain only they and “parts of Iraqiyya” are pressing for a questioning of the premier. True, the concept of “withdrawing confidence” remains on the agenda in the Iraqi press, but increasingly “reform”(islah) is the word of the day.
“Reform” will suit Maliki just fine since it mainly involves giving other Iraqi politicians the chance to bicker forever over the fine print of grandiose declarations that are unlikely to have any practical impact. Iraqi politicians rarely miss the opportunity of engaging in this kind of business.
There is however one item where Maliki needs the support of parliament: Local elections. This is so for two reasons. Firstly, the Iraqi supreme court has ordered parliament to fix the election law and in particular the distribution of surplus seats to better fit a proportional logic.
Secondly, Iraq needs to have a new elections commission approved. Partially, this is because the mandate of the current IHEC has expired. From Maliki’s point of view there is also the problem that he sees the current board as hostile and biased against him.
Both votes – i.e. changes to the elections law and confirmation of IHEC – can be done by a simple majority. This makes it easier for Maliki to prevail since he can benefit from the generally low attendance levels in the Iraqi parliament and clinch victories with perhaps no more than 20 to 40 votes from outside his list needed.
Any discussion of the election law is also likely to bring up the issue of Kirkuk (which still hasn’t had the elections it should have had in 2009) and recently it is Maliki, rather than Iraqiyya, that has been able to mobilise Arabs in Kirkuk on an Iraqi nationalist basis. It is noteworthy that when Maliki failed to do something similar in autumn 2009, it was apparently the result of strenuous American and international (UNAMI) pressure to keep Kirkuk off the agenda at the time.
The local elections are scheduled to take part in January 2013. Comments by Iraqi legislators to the effect that the needed changes are ready for a vote in parliament and that elections can go ahead around April 2013 seem overly optimistic. Nonetheless, it is a good sign that so far there is no indication that Maliki – who did well in Baghdad and the southern Shiite majority areas in January 2009 – is deliberately procrastinating in the way the leading Kurdish parties are doing in their own federal region, where local elections get continually postponed.
It is true that it is Maliki’s political challengers such as the Sadrists that have taken the lead in preparing for the next vote (above all through holding their own primaries), but unlike the Kurdish leaders, Maliki does at least have an incentive for working with legislators on the elections issue since he desperately wants to get rid of the current IHEC board.
In the end, it may well be that the conduct of these next local elections – rather than squabbling over the diffuse Erbil agreement – will serve as the main indicator of which way Iraq is heading as a democracy.