Last updated: 27 June, 2012

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki calls for early elections

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has called for early elections, a statement said on Wednesday, in the latest move in a series of political crises that has seen his opponents seek to unseat him.

“When the other side refuses to sit at the table of dialogue and insists on the policy of provoking successive crises in a way that causes serious damage to the supreme interests of the Iraqi people, the prime minister found himself forced to call for early elections,” said the statement on Maliki’s website.

The next parliamentary polls are due to be held in 2014.

According to Article 64 of the constitution, parliament may be dissolved by an absolute majority vote.

The process can be initiated in two ways, either by a request from one-third of MPs or by the prime minister after it is first approved by the president.

President Jalal Talabani’s position on the issue was not immediately clear.

Parliamentary elections in March 2010 did not produce a clear winner, leading to months of political jockeying that only led to formation of a government in December. Even so, such key positions as the defence and interior ministers remain vacant to this day, and are meanwhile held by Maliki.

Maliki’s call provoked mixed reactions from his opponents, who have been seeking to oust him.

Powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr “is not with this measure, as it requires time and consensus is difficult to obtain at this stage,” Dhia al-Assadi, the secretary general of Sadr’s Ahrar parliamentary bloc, told AFP.

“The consensus that was obtained for the current government cannot be obtained under these circumstances, and we therefore say that it is not appropriate to dissolve parliament because it would not be in the interest of the people,” Assadi said.

Haidar al-Mullah, a leading MP from the secular, Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc, said the bloc is “with any constitutional choice” and would respect the dissolution of parliament if it were carried out constitutionally.

“But we also demand that the prime minister understand both sides of democracy — when it is in his interest and when it does not serve him,” Mullah said, adding that “we have a problem with the executive authority, with the head of the government specifically.”

Even if new elections are called, organising them is another matter.

The mandate of the Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, which is responsible for organising all elections in Iraq, is set to expire next month, and no replacements have been named.

“Until now, the (new) commission has not been formed,” IHEC president Faraj al-Haidari told AFP. “I believe that the political situation also affects … the selection of the new commissioners, and at the same time it affects our work.”

Haidari spent several days in jail in April over corruption allegations he said were part of just one of many often-frivolous court cases against the IHEC pushed by an MP from Maliki’s coalition.

Reidar Visser, an Iraq analyst and editor of the website, said he believes the chances of parliament being dissolved are slim.

“Maliki probably wants to be seen as confident and wants to show he is not worried about the verdict of the public,” Visser said.

“He can afford to do so since the likelihood that MPs will actually vote to lose their own jobs is very small.”

Iraq has been hit by a series of intertwined political crises that began in mid-December with accusations that Maliki was concentrating power in his hands and escalated into calls to unseat him.

An effort to persuade Talabani to call a no-confidence vote stalled earlier this month when he said Maliki’s opponents lacked the votes to oust him.

That decision meant the only way Maliki’s opponents could press their drive for a no-confidence motion was by requesting he appear before parliament and then holding the vote.

Parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi said on June 21 that Maliki’s opponents were to ask in the coming days for him to appear before the house in a renewed bid to oust him.

The crises have paralysed government, especially parliament, which has passed no significant legislation except for the budget, while other important measures such as a hydrocarbons law regulating Iraq’s oil sector have been delayed.

The latest political development comes as three roadside bombs killed 11 people in Iraq on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s toll brings to at least 187 people killed in Iraq since June 13 — more than the number of people killed in May.