Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi vetoed the new Iraqi election law on Wednesday, something that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki described as “a serious threat to the political process.” Al-Maliki called on the Independent High Electoral Commission [IHEC] to continue its preparations to hold the [Iraqi] elections on schedule on 16 January 2010. However IHEC announced that it has stopped its preparations in this regard.
At a press conference held on Wednesday in Baghdad, Vice-President al-Hashemi announced that he was vetoing part of the electoral law, telling journalists “I sent a letter to parliament asking for the law to be amended. Parliament said I could veto the contested first article, which is what I have done today.”
He added “I do not object to the [electoral] law in its entirety, but only to Article I, with the goal of redressing [the parliamentary representation] of Iraqis living abroad. I do not expect the meeting on this amendment to last long, and the amendment can be concluded in one sitting.”
He described the current distribution of parliamentary seats as being “unreasonable” and demanded that seats for Iraqi minorities and Iraqi nationals living abroad be increased from 5 percent to 15 percent of Iraq’s 323-seat parliament.
In a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, al-Hashemi stressed that his proposed amendment to the election law will lead to equality between social groups in Iraq by increasing their share of compensatory seats. Compensatory seats are part of Iraq’s electoral proportional representation system, with certain Iraqi communities being allocated special representation in Iraqi parliament.
Al-Hashemi also called for the compensatory seats allocated to the Iraqi Christian community to be increased from 5 seats to 6 seats. The Christian compensatory seats are currently allocated to Baghdad, Nineveh, Kirkuk, Dohuk, and Erbil. Al-Hashemi’s amendment proposes that an additional Christian seat be allocated to Basra.
Al-Hashemi also stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat the need to increase the representation of Yazidi Kirks in Nineveh from one [compensatory] seat to two seats. He also stressed the importance of increasing the representation of the Sabian Mandaean representation in Baghdad and Basra from one [compensatory] seat to two seats.
Al-Hashemi told Asharq Al-Awsat “The issue today is greater than the [Iraqi] emigrant [community], because this [amendment] deals with the value of the Iraqi electoral vote. This should be single and equal between all Iraqis, because the value of an electoral vote is one of the national constants”
The first governmental reaction to al-Hashemi’s veto of the election law came in a statement issued by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in which he said “The Iraqi people who are impatiently waiting to go to the polls and choose their representatives, and who expressed their pleasure at the success of the House of Representatives in reaching an electoral law…were surprised by the veto of this electoral law, which is something that poses a serious threat to the political and democratic process. This [veto] has no solid constitutional basis, and does not take the higher national interests into account.”
Al-Maliki also said “I call on IHEC to continue their technical procedures and complete their preparations for the elections to be held on schedule without being delayed or affected by this veto.” Al-Maliki also called on political groups and electoral coalitions and lists to continue their operations and complete all requirements for participation in the elections on schedule.
IHEC head Faraj al-Haidari has been placed in a difficult situation as a result of this veto, and al-Maliki calling for IHEC to continue as normal. IHEC announced that it would be postponing its preparations for the elections in light of al-Hashemi’s veto. Al-Haidari told Asharq Al-Awsat that IHEC has “until now, not received an official letter [informing them] of the date of the elections, and has not received the electoral law, so what date are they [the government] asking us to conduct the elections on?”
For its part, the Presidency of the Kurdistan Region continued to issue demands that the Article dealing with the distribution of parliamentary seats in the Kurdish provinces be amended, and threatened an electoral boycott if the Kurdish Region was not treated justly. The election law has allocated 3 [compensatory] seats for the Kurdistan Region, with three seats being allocated to Erbil, and one seat for Dahuk governorate. The Sulaymaniyah governorate is not being allocated any compensatory seats [under the current Iraqi election law].
Head of the Kurdish President’s political office, Fouad Hussein, told Asharq Al-Awsat “We are interested in participating in the forthcoming elections according to a just distribution of compensatory seats between the [Iraqi] provinces.”
Hussein also stressed that an expanded meeting is scheduled to take place later today to discuss the veto of Article 1 of the Iraqi election law, which is the Article that deals with the distribution of compensatory seats. The Kurdish Alliance is expected to participate in this meeting and demand fairer representation for the Kurdish Region.
Iraqi politician Baha Araji also told Asharq Al-Awsat that the [Iraqi] legal commission will meet later today to study the proposed amendment to the election law, which will then be voted on by the [Iraqi] House of Representatives.