Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Iraq’s Prime Minister Takes On Election Commission Once Again

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has an adversarial relationship with the Election Commission since the 2010 parliamentary elections. He has gone to the courts to assert his authority over it, had his list try to unseat its members, and now the commission head and one of its members were just arrested, and released from jail. The main theme of the premier and his State of Law list has been that the Commission is corrupt, and therefore needs to be replaced. That was the basis for the recent detentions in April 2012. Almost all of the other political blocs have taken the latest move as an attempt by the prime minister to once again take over the commission, and perhaps dictate the terms of the upcoming voting.
Election Commission head Haydari was arrested April 12, 2012 on corruption charges (Al Arabiya)
On April 12, 2012, the head of the Election Commission and one other member was arrested on corruption charges. Commissioner Faraj al-Haydari and Karim al-Tamimi were accused of having six Election employees buy real estate for them in Baghdad, and paying three to four other employees bonuses of around $85 each. All the funds were said to come from the Commission. State of Law parliamentarian Hanan al-Fatlawi announced the warrants were being issued before the courts did. Haydari and Tamimi were held for three days, before being released on April 15 after paying $12,900 in bail each. The fact that Fatlawi was the first one to talk about the arrest even before the judiciary did, raised concerns about the case from the get go. The lawmaker is a longtime critic of the Commission making many believe that the case was political in nature, and that the courts were working at State of Law’s behest.

Commission head Haydari made just that accusation. He told reporters while he was in jail that the arrests were aimed at not only the Commission’s integrity, but democracy in Iraq as well. He said the case was to block the extension of the Commission’s work. The current nine commissioners’ terms are due to expire on April 28. In 2011, parliament gave them extra time to conduct provincial elections in Kurdistan, which are to occur in September. Haydari accused Fatlawi of being responsible for the arrests. He went on to say that the charges against him were brought up by the lawmaker in 2011, investigated, and dismissed. Haydari’s remarks were followed by a barrage of others by Iraq’s leading political parties, all accusing Fatlawi, Maliki, and State of Law of trying to hijack the Commission’s work, and threatening the country’s fragile government.

Almost every list in Iraq condemned the arrest of the Commission members. Moqtada al-Sadr issued a statement saying that Maliki was responsible for the detentions, and was trying to corrupt future elections in Iraq. The deputy head of the Kurdish Coalition in parliament called on the country’s political parties to oppose the arrests. The Coalition said that they would investigate the role of Fatlawi in the whole affair. The President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani accused the premier of trying to centralize power, control the government, undermine democracy, and threaten the future of elections in Iraq. Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq of the Iraqi National Movement complained that there were many other officials who were charged with corruption who were still walking free, questioning why the two Election Commission figures were singled out. He also mentioned that he believed the arrests were meant to stop the appointment of new officials to the Commission. Finally, White Iraqiya stated that the arrests seemed like a “vendetta” against Haydari, and that his detention would affect the 2013 provincial elections. These comments represented the full range of Iraqi political parties. The Iraqi National Movement has been Maliki’s greatest rival since the 2010 elections, but the Sadrists and White Iraqiya have been some of his biggest supporters. The Kurds were early supporters of the prime minister’s second term, but have become increasingly critical since then. All of the criticisms showed that the country’s major parties believed that the arrests were political in nature, and placed Maliki solely responsible for them. That’s largely because State of Law has repeatedly gone after the Commission since 2010.

From 2010-2011, Maliki and his State of Law consistently challenged the standing of the Election Commission. After the March 2010 parliamentary election, the prime minister demanded a recount when his list came in second place to the Iraqi National Movement. The Commission ended up only holding a partial re-tallying of the ballots in Baghdad, but it did not change the outcome. Then in January 2011, the Federal Supreme Court ruled that the Election Commission and all the other independent bodies in the government such as the Central Bank of Iraq were under the control of the cabinet, despite the 2005 Constitution explicitly saying that they were under the prerogative of parliament. The Commission and the United Nations both worried that the decision would lead to interference in future elections. That seemed to play out right afterward, when an Election Commission member accused Maliki of holding up the assignment of 29 general managers, claiming that their qualifications had to be checked. Then another story emerged that the prime minister tried to stop the appointment of 38 low level election officials. The Commission refused to follow the orders. In May, State of Law began accusing the Commission of corruption. Members of Maliki’s list called up election officials including Haydari in front of parliament for questioning about their salaries, special allowances, trips, and paying overtime. Hanan al-Fatlawi was the main lawmaker pushing the issue. In June, Maliki ordered the Commission to halt its work, which was again ignored, and the next month, State of Law issued a report laying out all of its accusations. That same month, Fatlawi got a no confidence vote against the Commission before the legislature. Only 94 out of a total of 325 parliamentarians voted in favor of the motion, which mostly came from State of Law, White Iraqiya, and the Change List. The Sadrists, the Supreme Council, the Kurdish Coalition, and the National Movement all voted against it. Afterward, Fatlawi went as far as to say that the defeat of the no confidence vote was a victory for corruption in Iraq. During all of these moves, State of Law was virtually alone. The no confidence vote in parliament showed that few believed any of the attacks upon the Election Commission, and in fact proved the exact opposite, that most were happy with its conduct. All of the charges against the Commission were largely taken as partisan and personal, as Maliki was upset with losing the 2010 balloting, and most believed he wanted to punish the Election officials as a result.

Iraq’s political system is still very immature. The rules of conduct are still being decided, and powerful individuals are largely able to do what they want despite what might be written in the Constitution or in legislation. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his State of Law’s constant attempts at controlling and undermining the Election Commission are just the latest examples of that. It was obvious that after State of Law came in second after the 2010 voting that Maliki was being vindictive, and led to his unleashing of a barrage of assaults upon the Commission. Given the fact that State of Law parliamentarian Fatlawi announced the warrants before the court even did in April just leads to the widespread suspicion that Maliki is once again trying to get rid of his opponents by manipulating the system. So far, he has been able to get away with these acts, because the other parties are weak and divided. The widespread condemnation of the arrests of the Commission members however, shows that they may unite to stop this latest move, but it’s unlikely to be the last time it happens.


AIN, “Mutleg: Arresting Haidiri, Timimi raises doubts over independence of judicial systems,” 4/14/12

AK News, “Head of elections’ commission arrested over corruption,” 4/13/12
- “UN Assistance Mission calls for due process in detention of electoral commission members,” 4/14/12

Arango, Tim, “An Arrest Casts a Shadow Over Elections in Iraq,” New York Times, 4/16/12

Aswat al-Iraq, “Arrest of Haidari, attempt of vengeance, MP,” 4/14/12

Brosk, Raman, “Kurdish Blocs Coalition investigates MP’s relation to arrest of electoral commission members,” AK News, 4/15/12

Dunlop, W.G., “Maliki’s ‘calculations’ plunge Iraq deeper into political tension,” Middle East Online, 4/14/12

Harissi, Mohamad Ali, “Iraq political blocs accuse PM of dictatorship,” Agence France Presse, 4/14/12

Reuters, “Iraq election commission chief released from jail-official,” 4/15/12

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