Iraqi parliament passes amendments to electoral laws in bid to calm public anger

Political parties are engaging in backdoor negotiations to choose a new prime minister

FILE - in this Monday, Sept. 3, 2018, file photo, Iraqi lawmakers attend a parliament session in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq's parliament on Thursday, Jan. 24 has approved a national budget for 2019 after weeks of wrangling over how to apportion revenues between the regions damaged by the war against the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim, File)
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Iraq's parliament on Tuesday passed several amendments to the country’s draft electoral law as political parties engage in backdoor negotiations to choose a new prime minister in a bid to calm public anger.

Since the start of the anti-government demonstrations in early October, Iraqis have demanded a new constitution, a new electoral law and a complete overhaul of the political system.

"Politicians decided to pass several changes to the electoral law, in particular Article 15 that determines the structure of the elections and allows those to run independently rather than within a party or a list," an Iraqi official who attended the session told The National.

“The next round of election would mean that people would get the chance to vote for independent candidates,” he said.

Over 180 politicians attended Tuesday’s session.

"The level of voter fraud was high and we need to make changes to the laws that are governing the system to ensure that next elections would be fair to all Iraqis," Arshad Salihi, an MP who attended the session, told The National.

Negotiations remained ongoing over a candidate to replace Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned last month in the face of the protests. But they have remained deadlocked since the latest in a series of deadlines expired at midnight on Sunday.

Parliament speaker Mohamed Al Halbousi asked President Barham Salih to nominate a new head of government. But first, Mr Al Halbousi must present the president with a name.

Parliament’s two main blocs of political parties, are the Iranian-backed Binaa led by Hadi Al Amiri, and the other is Islah led by anti-Iranian Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr.

Both have been closely involved in the backroom deals.

Over the last year, the two have disputed who has the most seats because this was never made clear in the current parliament, and some politicians have frequently switched allegiance.

Reports emerged early on Tuesday that parliament speaker, Mohammed Al Halbousi, officially designated the Iran-backed Binaa bloc as the largest bloc and handing them power to name the next prime minister.

But this was later refuted by his office.

The deadline to announce a new premier expired because the relevant political actors cannot agree on an appointment, Kirk Sowell, an Iraq expert at Utica Risk Services, said.

"The Bina-backed candidate Qusay Al Suhail has more support than any other individual, but President Barham Salih has resisted appointing him because he knows that it will cause the Iraqi street to explode," Mr Sowell told The National.

Mr Salih must find a constitutional exit from the current stalemate before the situation spins out of control on the streets, Abbas Kadhim, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Iraq Initiative, said.

"The Iraqi leadership violated the constitutional requirement of registering the largest bloc in the parliament and nominated Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi by consensus," Mr Abbas told The National.

During last year’s elections, neither coalition won a majority that would have enabled it to name the premier alone.

To avoid a political crisis they formed a fragile union and named Mr Abdul Mahdi as prime minister.

"Now that they need to replace him, they are hitting a brick wall. This situation has been exacerbated by the protesters' rejection of all candidates so far," Mr Abbas said.