Possible delay to January polls after MPs fail to reach quorum on election law

The Iraqi parliament has put off a vote on a key election law after failing to reach a quorum, raising the prospect of January polls being delayed. Some MPs blamed a Kurdish boycott for the failure.


AFP - Iraqi lawmakers again put off a vote on a key electoral bill on Thursday after failing to reach a quorum when a compromise version was presented, raising the prospect of January polls being delayed.

The stalemate comes despite intense lobbying from both the United Nations and the United States, as well as pressure from religious leaders and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

"A boycott by Kurdish MPs today is the main reason there was no vote in parliament," said Fawzi Akram, a lawmaker in radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc.

Another MP, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "insufficient MPs were present. There were only 100 MPs, and the quorum is 138."

Parliament speaker Iyad al-Samarrai told reporters "consultations will continue, and there will be another meeting of parliament on Saturday," without specifying whether MPs would vote on the bill.

The key stumbling block to enacting a law has been the status of the oil-rich province of Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed northern region along the border with the autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Kirkuk's majority Kurds have long demanded incorporation into Kurdistan, but that has met fierce opposition from the province's Arabs and Turkmen.

While Kurds favour using current voter registration lists and keeping Kirkuk as one electoral constituency, Arabs and Turkmen want 2004 or 2005 records to be used, or for Kirkuk to be split into two constituencies.

"Arab MPs refused a new proposal put forward by the UN to hold elections in Kirkuk using voter records from 2009, before updating those records and holding another election in 2010 (only in Kirkuk)," said Salim al-Juburi, deputy chairman of parliament's legal committee.

The late dictator Saddam Hussein pursued a policy of Arabisation in Kirkuk, which included driving Kurds out. But since Saddam's fall in 2003, Kurds have returned in large numbers.

The proposed amendments would also address whether parties list candidates' names on ballot papers or use the current system under which voters see only party names.

Stalemate over the bill has sparked concern that the polls, scheduled for January 16, will have to be delayed because electoral authorities will not have enough time to organise them.

Pressure on MPs has come from a wide variety of people, including US President Barack Obama, the United Nations and Iraqi religious leaders, as well as Maliki.

On Thursday, US Ambassador Christopher Hill and General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, reiterated that "the rules, procedures, and decisions adopted for the January elections should apply only to that election."

"They should not serve as precedents for future elections or for future political settlements" related to disputes over Kirkuk, they said in a joint statement.

In the event of disagreement on a common text, two proposals would be put forward -- one advanced by the UN and another by a senior political committee including Maliki, Samarrai and President Jalal Talabani. The bill garnering the most votes would be adopted.

Diplomats have expressed concern that elections in Kirkuk would have to be delayed because of disputes over voting lists there.

The political committee's proposal offers three options relating to Kirkuk: postponing elections there, using voter records from 2004 or separating the province into two electoral constituencies.

The political deadlock threatens the poll as the electoral law is supposed to be in place 90 days before voting takes place. Constitutionally, the election must be held by January 31.

Supporters of the closed system argue that their system pushes party programmes of action to the fore.

Critics say sitting MPs who support the closed list are in fact concerned that they could lose their seats.

A closed list was used in national elections in January 2005, the first to take place after dictator Saddam Hussein's overthrow in the US-led invasion of 2003. In contrast, provincial polls in January of this year adopted an open system.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Take international news everywhere with you! Download the France 24 app