Posted by Reidar Visser
on Sunday, 24 October 2010 13:03
In a small triumph for Iraqi democracy, the country’s federal supreme court today ruled that parliament had to end its “open session” and get on with the election of a proper speaker, “within 14 days” according to some reports, so that parliament could resume its supervisory functions in keeping with the principle of democratic separation of powers. The challenge had been mounted against the temporary speaker of parliament, Fuad Masum of the Kurdistan Alliance, by a non-governmental organisation.
It is however unclear whether the ruling will actually prompt any fast response by Iraqi parliamentarians. It should be stressed that what the main factions are currently doing, i.e. postponing the election of a parliament speaker until the architecture of a more comprehensive deal including prime minister and president is ready, is not in line with the constitution. However, since all the big parties have major stakes in finishing a comprehensive deal, only small parties, like Tawafuq, have so far shown an interest in the idea of an early election of a speaker.
But even when it comes to the bigger parties, it is really hard to understand why there should not be at least a premier nominee within a week or two. This is so because the current phase of the government-formation process, “the Kurdish drama”, is playing out in a slightly different way than expected after the surprisingly large anti-Maliki defections from the putative all-Shiite National Alliance left the Kurds with a kingmaker role they otherwise would not have had. Due to this development, the two competing formations of parties – i.e. the rump NA headed by Maliki, and Iraqiyya in a tactical alliance with ISCI and with Adil Abd al-Mahdi as premier candidate – have opted to take an uncritical approach to the Kurdish list of 19 demands, to the point where it seems clear that they are promising a lot more than they can ever deliver. Right now, the only potential problem seems to be that there could be some kind of draw whereby both Maliki and Allawi/Abd al-Mahdi promise to implement all of the 19 points! In that case personality and trust issues will necessarily come to the fore, and the Kurdish ranking seems to be 1. Abd al-Madhi; 2. Allawi; 3. Maliki; certainly as far a Masud Barzani is concerned. Still, Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader closest to Maliki, seems to be weakening the strong Kurdish position somewhat by his insistence on keeping the presidency for himself.
Again, the idea that the 19 Kurdish points will ever be implemented seems totally unrealistic. This is why any premier nomination is likely to be followed by a period of confusion as the impossibility of implementing many of the Kurdish demands will necessarily dawn upon key players as soon as a premier has been nominated. In particular, once settled in his spacious new office, the new president will discover that he has no power and can get no power except through a special vote in parliament followed by a popular referendum. Even a conservative estimate would indicate May 2011 as a realistic timeline for a process involving a vote in parliament, a referendum law, the referendum itself and certification of the result. And that assumes a Yes vote to the required constitutional change.
But again, as long as the fiction of the feasibility of implementing the Kurdish point remains, there is nothing that should prevent the Kurds from picking a winner within a week or so. One possible delaying factor could be the United States, which probably may still hold some leverage over the KRG president, Masud Barzani. It is conceivable that Washington is creating delays by either not answering the telephone due to the distractions of the 2 November midterm election, or by insisting on continued attempts to get all four major factions inside the next government, which means higher thresholds for finding agreement.
At any rate, more meetings between the Kurds and the two competing formations of parties have been scheduled for this week; all in all there simply is no longer any excuse for not getting on with it.