In a significant move, the Iraqi parliament has completed the first passage of the 2014 annual budget despite boycotts by the Kurds and the Mutahhidun bloc loyal to the parliament speaker, Usama al-Nujayfi.
The sheer arithmetic behind the successful quorum at Sunday’s session speaks volumes about shifting political winds in Iraq ahead of the 30 April parliament elections. In order to go ahead with the first reading, 163 MPs needed to be present to reach the legal minimum requirement for taking parliamentary action. According to the official parliament record, 164 deputies attended. In the context of boycotts by Kurds and Mutahhidun alike, this is a remarkable achievement. It means, firstly, that the Shia bloc in parliament is exhibiting internal discipline at a level not seen since 2005. Altogether the three main Shiite factions – State of Law, Muwatin and the Sadrists – command around 161 deputy votes. The numbers suggest that despite internal turmoil among the Sadrists (or because of it?) a majority of these deputies will have been present during the budget reading. Whereas previous occasions involving Kurdish opposition to Maliki have seen widespread ISCI solidarity with the Kurds, no such major Shiite challenge to Maliki appears to have materialized this time around. But beyond this, importantly, there must have been some MPs from the Sunni and secular camps attending as well. The numbers don’t lie: even on a good day, there are no more than aroundd 160 Shiite Islamist MPs, and most of the handful of minority MPs from small non-Muslim groups and ethnic micro-minorities are loyal to the Kurds. Accordingly, in the context of continued criticism of PM Maliki by Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi, it makes sense to assume that at least some of the breakaway elements of Iraqiyya that materialized in 2012 were present to secure the necessary quorum.
Still, this is only the first reading of the budget. Parliament speaker Nujayfi will be able to stage filibuster-like obstacles to delay the second reading and the decisive vote. It is however noteworthy that Nujayfi himself chose to be present and chair the budget first reading on Sunday, quite despite his own bloc’s boycott.
Three further parliament meetings are scheduled for this week. For now, the second budget reading is not on the agenda.