On November 8, 2009 Iraq’s parliament finally passed an election bill after weeks of delay. Ten days later Vice President Tarqi al-Hashemi vetoed it. Hashemi objected to the fact that Iraq’s refugees, the majority of which are Sunnis, would have their votes go towards only eight compensatory seats that would also be shared with smaller parties that didn’t get enough votes at the provincial level, but did well nationally. The Iraqi Election Commission says that there should be one seat in parliament for every 100,000 people, and it’s generally believed that there are at least 2 million Iraqi refugees. The problem was that the Vice President tried to portray his act as a line-item veto, demanding a change in the number of seats set aside for refugees, while claiming that the rest of the bill should not be touched. This is not allowed under Iraqi law however. What his veto did in effect, was open the election bill to the demands of other parties that undermined his own goals.
As reported before, the Kurdish Alliance in parliament objected to the proposed increase in the parliamentary seats from 275 to 323 because the three Kurdish provinces got few to no new seats. Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani even went as far as to threaten a Kurdish boycott unless the arrangements were changed. By vetoing the election bill, Hashemi empowered the Kurds to negotiate this very issue.
They aligned with the two major Shiite blocks, the Prime Minister’s State of Law and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, to pass an amendment on November 23 to the election bill. It skips Hashemi’s request for an increase in seats for refugees, by counting their votes as part of the provinces they were originally from, and rearranges the parliamentary seat allocations by province by using older 2005 statistics with a 2.8% increase for recent population growth, rather than 2009 numbers. Using the 2009 figures, Sunni provinces such as Ninewa were due for large increases in seats, but those will now go the Kurds instead. This suits the Shiite parties as well that were not enthusiastic about any extra seats in Sunni provinces.
Vice President Hashemi’s veto has thus backfired. He not only didn’t get the increases he requested for refugees, but the amendment reduces Sunni chances to get a larger say in parliament. When the changes were voted on members of the Iraqi Accordance Front, former Prime Minister Ilyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List, and some Sadrists walked out. This will likely lead to another veto by Hashemi. The head of the Iraqi Election Commission said on November 19 that elections would be delayed because they can’t happen at the end of January 2010 as planned because that would coincide with Shiite religious ceremonies, while the constitution says that voting must be held no later than January 31. What is probably going to happen is that parliament will attempt to overturn Hashemi’s second expected veto, they need a three-fifths vote and the bill will become law, balloting will be held in February, and a caretaker government will have to be announced in the meantime. This all shows that Iraq is barely a country of laws as its politicians rarely if ever meet any deadlines, whether they’re self-imposed or in the constitution.
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- “The Hashemi Veto Backfires, Parliament Ups the Ante,” Iraq and Gulf Analysis, 11/23/09