Iraqi MPs fail to reach agreement on election law

Iraqi MPs failed Wednesday to agree on a new electoral law intended to establish more transparency for general elections due in January because of a stalemate over the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

The latest in a series of delays has cast doubt on whether the poll, the second national vote since the overthrow of dictator Saddam Hussein in the US-led invasion of 2003, can be held on January 16 as scheduled.

Parliamentary speaker Iyad al-Samarrai told reporters the issue had been referred to a senior political council made up of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and the leaders of major political parties.

“Opinion of some political parties became more intransigent, and this made an agreement impossible,” said Samarrai, adding that lawmakers would vote on the law on Monday if the council came up with a proposal by Sunday.

“The subject became bigger than the parliament and there was no way to negotiate.”

The delay to the law was triggered by failed negotiations relating to the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, an ethnically-mixed province in northern Iraq which Kurdish leaders want incorporated into the autonomous Kurdistan region.

Kirkuk’s Arab and Turkmen communities however remain strongly opposed to the Kurdish ambitions, which also extend to parts of neighbouring provinces.

Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution calls for a referendum to decide Kirkuk’s fate but it has been put off at the recommendation of the United Nations.

The wrangling over the electoral law comes as US forces reduce their presence in Iraq and amid calls from both the UN and Washington for a speedy resolution of the issue.

US President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged Iraq’s parliament to end delays and pass the law, which would decide whether ballot papers in next year’s election will show candidates’ names or only party titles, so that the polls can take place on time.

Senior US commanders regard the election as a key measure for their military drawdown. As part of a Baghdad-Washington accord, around 70,000 American troops must leave Iraq by the end of August next year.

The UN’s special envoy to Iraq Ad Melkert on Wednesday urged MPs to approve the proposed law, saying further delays risked undermining the credibility of the election.

“Time is critical and further delays in ratifying the amendment clarifications and the legal framework can adversely affect both the current electoral timeline, and ultimately the credibility of the electoral process,” he said in a statement.

A vote on the bill was originally slated to be held on Thursday, but was delayed until Monday, and daily debates since then have so far proved fruitless.

Haidar al-Abadi, an MP in Maliki’s Dawa party said the latest delay could prove the death knell for the election.

“Parliament today proved it is unable to legislate, and the parliament’s presidency (the speaker and his two deputies) put the last nail in its coffin,” by referring the issue to the senior council, said Abadi.

Iraq’s electoral commission has said it requires 90 days to organise the nationwide polls and with elections scheduled for January 16, the law should have been passed by October 19.

Constitutionally, the vote is required to be held by January 31.

The failure to agree new legislation has left open the prospect that the old law, which advocated a closed system, could be used in the January polls.

But Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani, whose stature dwarfs that of any of the country’s politicians, has expressed his opposition to that system.

Earlier this month, MPs moved to retain the more opaque voting system used in 2005 but the move triggered an intervention by Sistani, who called for a change of heart, and sparked widescale protests.

The more open system advocated by Sistani was used in provincial elections in January which saw Maliki’s allies take a majority of the votes in nine of Iraq’s 10 Shiite-majority provinces, including the capital Baghdad.

Agence France-Presse


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