Friday, August 5, 2011

Iraq’s Prime Minister Fails To Unseat Election Commission

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has had an adversarial relationship with the country’s Election Commission since he lost to his main rival Iyad Allawi in the 2010 parliamentary election. Maliki demanded a recount, but that did not change the outcome. The premier was still able to outmaneuver Allawi and stay in power thanks to a favorable ruling by the Federal Court. Months later, Maliki was not done. At the beginning of 2011, the Federal Court again decided in his favor by saying that the Election Commission was under the cabinet’s control, instead of parliament. Members of the prime minister’s State of Law then began a relentless attack upon the commission for corruption, and pushed a no confidence vote to get rid of its leadership. That effort failed in July, marking an important setback for Maliki’s autocratic tendencies.

In January 2011, Iraq’s Federal Court ruled that all independent commissions in the country were under the control of the cabinet, and not parliament. The case was at the behest of Prime Minister Maliki who wanted to clarify the jurisdiction of the commissions. An advisor to the premier said that the decision was a good move because the Election Commission had no oversight before, and blamed any criticism of the court on politics. A legal aide to Maliki denied that the ruling was illegal, claiming that the constitution was unclear about what body the commissions came under. In fact, the constitution is quite unequivocal as Article 103 and 104 expressly state that all the independent commissions are under the parliament.

Why the Federal Court would make such a decision was widely debated within Iraq. It came after a number of other questionable rulings that favored Maliki. After the March 2010 parliamentary elections, the court said that the largest bloc that could form a new government meant one that was made either before or after the vote when previously it had been considered to mean one made before. That allowed the prime minister to make alliances after the vote to stay in office. The court followed that with a ruling that laws had to come from the cabinet, not parliament, which would have severely limited the power of the legislature. Some analysts believed that since the judges were from Saddam Hussein’s time, they were following their history of ruling in favor of the country’s leader.

The Election Commission was very worried about the court’s decision. It said that Maliki could interfere in elections, and undermine public confidence in them in the future. The head of the commission, Faraj al-Haydari stated that the United Nations was also worried. Right after the court ruling, the prime minister did intervene by ordering it to halt the appointment of 38 low-level election officials. The commission refused to follow that order. By doing so, the commission  was defying not only the prime minister, but the court as well, which again angered Maliki.

The prime minister’s problems with the Election Commission started right after the March 2010 balloting. Maliki’s State of Law lost by just a few seats to Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement. That led the premier to demand a recount over fraud charges. The commission eventually agreed, but only in Baghdad, and it did not change the results. The prime minister was still able to stay in office, but was obviously upset that the commission had not made him the winner.

In May 2011, State of Law began questioning the integrity of the Election Commission. State of Law members accused it of financial and administrative corruption. That led to hearings with the commission’s leadership who were questioned about their salaries, special allowances, trips, and overtime pay. Maliki’s list accused them of having excessive security costs, and taking their family members on official visits. These charges became the basis of a no confidence vote in the leadership of the commission.

In the summer, Maliki stepped up his attacks upon the commission. First, he ordered that it cease all of its work in June. Second, State of Law distributed a report accusing the commission of corruption in July. Members of the prime minister’s list also began collecting signatures for a no confidence vote in the commission’s leadership. The commission responded by refusing to follow Maliki’s order, while its chairman, Faraj Haydari, accused State of Law of conducting a witch-hunt against the commission. If the no confidence vote went through, Haydari, and the rest of the commission’s leadership would have to step down. New commissioners could then be appointed by the cabinet, following the earlier court decision, giving Maliki the control he sought.

The problem for the premier, was that he found few supporters for his plan. The Kurdish Coalition did not support the no confidence vote claiming that it was just a plot by Maliki because he was upset with the 2010 election results. It also didn’t help that Haydari was from their list. The Change List, a breakaway Kurdish opposition group, was also opposed to the move, along with Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement and the National Alliance. Allawi’s list claimed that Maliki was trying to remain in power and stop any early elections from being called, while the National Alliance, which was in a coalition with State of Law, questioned the prime minister’s motives as well. The premier could expect no victories with so little support. It also showed that the majority of parliament believed that the attacks upon the Election Commission were just a raw power grab by Maliki.

The vote on the Election Commission finally happened on July 28, with the State of Law going down in defeat. Only 94 out of 245 parliamentarians in attendance voted in favor of the no confidence motion when a majority was needed. State of Law only has 89 seats out of 325 total, meaning that it got few supporters for its initiative. It appeared that the White Iraqi National Movement was the only party willing to stand with it. State of Law proved poor losers, as they marched out of parliament afterward, as some members said they would not follow the commission’s decision in the future. One State of Law parliamentarian went for hyperbole, claiming that the legislature could never talk about corruption again because they had stood by and allowed the corrupt commission leaders to stay in office. In contrast, the Iraqi National Movement praised the defeat as a positive sign for Iraq’s parliament, while the Sadrists, who are part of the National Alliance, said that State of Law’s accusations against the commission were false. Maliki had seemingly made a big deal out of nothing. He had his followers in parliament relentlessly attack the parliament, bring it up for a no confidence vote, but it was apparent from the beginning that his list was almost alone. The other parties could see that Maliki was just attempting to take over the commission so that he could control future elections. There was no reason for any other party to allow that as it would’ve threatened their own political futures.

Prime Minister Maliki was defeated in his attempt to unseat the Election Commission’s leadership, and take control of it. State of Law is still pushing the matter, accusing the parliament of lacking integrity and standing for corruption, but that will only earn Maliki more enemies, something that he can little afford as he is only in power due to the good favors of the Kurdish Coalition and National Alliance, both of which voted against the no confidence push. More importantly, the premier has shown increasingly autocratic tendencies in the past few years, and this was the latest example. He has steadily moved to increase his powers at the expense of others. This was one of his more open attempts, and was so bold that it was doomed to failure, so much so that one could question whether Maliki was ever serious about this effort, or whether he simply wanted to run the Commission through the wringer to punish it for not following his orders. Either way, his attempt was not a good sign for Iraq’s fledgling democracy. Institutions are still weak, and they need to be supported and nurtured rather than manipulated as the prime minister attempted to.


Alsumaria, “State of Law: Parliament does not have the right to talk about corruption anymore,” 7/30/11

Aswat al-Iraq, “State of Law to vote no confidence on Election Commission,” 7/27/11

Brosk, Raman, “Iraqi Federal Court standstill about independent bodies,” AK News, 3/9/11

Buratha News, “Falawi: we have enough to withdraw confidence from the Electoral Commission in the meeting of the House of Representatives tomorrow,” 7/27/11

Ibrahim, Haidar, “Kurds to oppose Electoral commission no confidence,” AK News, 7/27/11
- “MP deems support for electoral commission “a violation,”” AK News, 7/19/11
- “SLC deputy rejects renewed confidence vote for electoral commission,” AK News, 7/28/11

Independent Press Agency, “Iraqi white regrets for not withdrawing confidence from the Electoral Commission,” 7/28/11

Kareem, Karzan, “MPs vote down ‘no confidence’ in electoral commission,” AK News, 7/28/11

Al-Mada, “State law: dismissal of the election commission next week .. Haidari and critical questioning,” 7/19/11

Al-Nashmi, Fadel, “fears that iraqi pm grabbing power, becoming a ‘democ-tator,’” Niqash, 7/5/11

National Iraqi News Agency, “Buffy: Some parties tried to dismiss the IHCE members after politicized questioning rather than a regulatory,” 7/5/11
- “Leading member of IS political goals behind attempts to withdraw confidence from IEHC,” 7/4/11
- “MP for SLC announce formation of a tripartite committee to investigate financial issues for the Electoral Commission,” 7/23/11
- “MP for SLC ,demands withdrawal of confidence from IHEC for financial and administrative corruption,” 7/23/11
- “MP for the Center Coalition : most deputies consider questioning of IHCE targeting its head Alhaydari,” 7/24/11
- “Mutlaq: not to withdraw confidence from the electoral commission restore prestige of Parliament,” 7/28/11
- “Parliamentary sources: sacking of IHEC aiming at formation of subjected alternative,” 7/7/11
- “A parliamentary source; vote to dismiss the IHCE on Thursday,” 7/25/11
- “The political body of the Sadrist movement: the withdrawal of confidence from the electoral commission a step towards the return of dictatorship,” 7/29/11

Saadi, Ahmed, “Faraj al-Haidari: Results of the elections and refused to interventions targeting behind Maliki and the Commission,” Shatt al-Arab, 7/14/11

Schmidt, Michael and Healy, Jack, “Maliki’s Broadened Powers Seen as a Threat in Iraq,” New York Times, 3/4/11

Al-Shammari, Yazn, “MP: SLC will call for no confidence of electoral commission,” AK News, 7/23/11

Sowell, Kirk, “Inside Iraqi Politics No, 18,” 7/14/11

Taha, Yaseen, “electoral commission may not survive as kurdish mps split,” Niqash, 5/12/11

Wanan, Jaafar, “MPs sign to withdraw confidence from IHEC,” AK News, 7/2/11


Harry Barnes said...

Welcome back. You are as informative as ever. Hope everything has gone well.

Joel Wing said...

Thanks Harry. Just got out of the hospital. Have a tube sticking out of my side. Trying to catch up with everything.

amagi said...

I knew you wouldn't stay sidelined for long!

Do you think this debacle has significantly weakened Maliki and State of Law? It seemed to me like a sudden emperor has no clothes moment.

Joel Wing said...

amagi, it was so apparent from the get go that State of Law was never going to get a no confidence vote against the Election Commission through parliament I question how serious they were about it. I think Maliki just wanted to punish the Commission by dragging it through hearings and the constant public accusations.

amagi said...

Right, but hasn't the end result been that Maliki and Daawa seem foolish (especially given the poor performance of the government in practically every other sphere) and the Elections Commission strengthened as an icon of democracy? Does it not serve to demonstrate the extent of Maliki's power?

Joel Wing said...

amagi, I only think that would be true if State of Law thought it could be successful in unseating the Election Commission. If their goal was to just politically punish it, then goal accomplished. They dragged the leadership before parliament for questioning, had a daily assault upon its integrity, drew it before parliament for a no confidence vote. Mission accomplished is what I see.

On other fronts Maliki is stronger now than he's ever been with control of the security ministries, intelligence agencies, and having successfully outmaneuvered Allawi, while keeping the Sadrists in check. That doesn't mean he's governing any more effectively than he has in the post, but he's got a better grip on power, and that's what I think his ultimate aim is. He's got a really bad autocratic tendency in him, and that's all playing out now.

MAIS M.ISSA said...

interesting blog

Anonymous said...

I came cross this blog after having read the translation of this article in an Iraqi newspaper. It is strange that the blogger uses one side's narrative to explain what has happened regarding the election commission issue. It is interesting also to see how the Western, particularly American,writers and analysts always favor Ayad Allawi and try to envision him as a democrat. this is simply because he is the ally of Saudi Arabia and the man peferred by the CIA. Allawi was part of a coalition, and after having been significantly supported by the Saudi and Qatari media in his electoral campaign, and the implicit support he received from American officials, his coalition managed to win 91 seats. Now the fact is that this coalition, funded and supported by US, Saudis, Qataris, and Turkey, comprised of four big parties. Three of these parties are Sunni, and Alawi was rendered the head of the coalition just to give it a profile of a 'national' and secular movement, as the Western media tend to label it. Allawi's party won 24 seats out of the 91, and his performance in the Sunni sreas was not as great as some like to portray. Sunni voters voted for the other Sunni parties, and the result was that the coalition won 91 seats, 2 seats more than what al-Maliki alone won. According to the vote count, al-Maliki personally won the highest number of votes, 200000 more than Allawi, both run in Baghdad. The story that al-Maliki managed to form the government by exploiting the federal court's decision is another narrative of Allawi's group and their strong media machine. Allawi's coalition had won 28% of the votes, as had al-Maliki's. To form a government, like in every other democracy, you need 51% of parliamentary votes. For 8 months, Allawi failed to gain this support, neither form the Shi'a competetors of al-Maliki nor from the Kurdish parties. Al-Maliki did. something similar happened in Israel, but nobody is questioning Natenyahoo's rule in Israel today although his coalition was the second in the election.Is it just you do not know, or it is simply about marketing the typical western Puppet who was chosen by Paul Bremer to be the interim Premier despite the fact that the majority of Iraqis detested his Ba'athist background.

Joel Wing said...


1st I don't support Allawi or any Iraqi politician or party. I have no stake in Iraqi politics, and only try to write and analyze them.

2nd in the previous Iraqi elections the interpretation was that the largest coalition that was eligible to form a government was one that was formed BEFORE the election. The Federal Court's ruling in the 2010 election that the largest coalition could be one formed before or after the election greatly helped Maliki's effort to out maneuver Allawi.

Not only that but Maliki claimed that he had the right to form a government as soon as the election was over. That was before he was able to form any type of coalition, so it wasn't as you try to portray that he waited for Allawi who failed.

Joel Wing said...

P.S. Allawi definitely got funding from the Sunni Arab states plus Turkey. You don't think Dawa/State of Law doesn't get money from Iran?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Joel for the reply.
I am not sure that state of law gets funding from Iran, or maybe some of its components do. As you may know, there are more than one branch of al-da'wa party, some are closer to Iran than al-Maliki's. Definitely Iran supports several Shi'a groups, something that Western media had extensively covered.But I do not remember reading one single piece about the role of the Saudis not only in funding , but in keeping in keeping Allawi's coalition united. A credible source told me once, that when al-Mutlag was considering leaving Allawi and join al-Maliki in a new coalition, the Saudi intelligence warned him that he will not be allowed to visit any Arab country and his political career would be harmed. Definitely, Iran exercises similar pressures on Shi'a politicians, but my problem that even neutral reporters or analysts are still seeing only one side of the story: the Iranian influence, Iran-backed groups, Shi'a ties to Iran ..etc. What do you think the coverage would looked like had Allawi, not al-maliki, accused the election commission of fraud. Actually he does so in the first day of election and even before the closing of polling. His accusations were well covered in the Arab and western media. There is an evident bias, even if not deliberate sometimes, to Allawi. No question he is the favorite of USA and Arab Sunni countries. But the fact that he failed to decisively win two elections despite all the unmatched financial, media, and political support he had received must mean something. At least his narrative must be countered with what his adversaries do say.
As for who legally must form the government before, I do not think that this issue was raised 'legally' after the first election. There was not credible competitor for the Shi'a alliance then.

Anonymous said...

Let me add this to clarify what do I mean by the other narrative.
When the court decided that the commission must recount the votes in Baghdad, the latter refused to implement unless it gets a clarification about related technical issues. The US embassy and UN representative put some pressure on the court that it decided the recounting must not be accompanied with measures to examine the voter's signatures and to compare the number of the votes with the number of registered voters in polling centers.Simply that means take the papers from the ballot boxes and recount them. the real complaints were about falsification of signatures by the staff of polling centers and adding more papers.
2nd , many democratic countries stopped the electronic count of votes , e.g.Netherlands. Not only the Iraqi commission did not explain how this electronic counting takes place, bu also there were reports that only a single international expert had an access to the data base, and he/she is able to change the results. Do you think that Gulf countries would have found big difficulty to figure out who is this expert? we are talking about countries known for the competence of mass bribing (e.g. Qatar's world cup scandal). It might seem a conspiracy theory, but this what all Iraqi politics about: regional Geo-political conflict with no ethical limits.
Apart from that, the commission board members are accused of corruption which has been uncovered in a parliamentary session. This might not be the real reason why al-Maliki wanted to get rid of them. But the corruption is really big. The only reason the other parties voted to keep the commission is that the confidence vote was proposed by Al-Maliki's coalition.
This video shows part of that session and the type of accusations the commission faced

Joel Wing said...

Thank you for the lengthy reply.

Before and after the election there were plenty of stories in the English language press about how the Saudis, Turkey and Syria were all supporting Allawi. A few mentioned that they were funding his party, not just giving him political support.

Just in general though, U.S. papers are going to emphasize the country's enemies and not its friends. Therefore there is plenty about Iran interfering in Iraq. When the insurgency was going full force there was also a lot about how militants were crossing over from Syria. There was virtually nothing about Saudi support for the insurgency that was killing Americans and Iraqis.

As for the Election Commission, I would not be surprised if there were examples of corruption. That would make it no different than the rest of the government. Like you said though, since State of Law pushed the no confidence vote the other parties were not going to go along. Removing the leadership would allow Maliki to name their successors as well, and I don't think any party would agree to that either because they would be afraid Maliki would fill it with his supporters.

Finally, just commenting on Allawi and the 2010 election in general, I thought it was pretty apparent soon after the vote counting was done that he was not going to win. He kept leaving the country and his biggest tactic was to complain that only he had the right to form a government. Neither of those showed much tact, nor strength in his position. Plus Maliki had the power of being the incumbent, so he could wait out his rivals while holding onto power.