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sour electoral grapes in basra
central govt challenges local authority

Waheed Ghanim
The new provincial council in Basra is hamstrung by conflict, with those who lost in the provincial elections here – PM Nouri al-Maliki’s bloc – saying that the results were calculated unfairly…
9.01.2014  |  Basra

In Basra, the wrangling over the results of Iraq’s recent provincial elections is still going on. The new governor, Majid al-Nasrawi, and his council have plenty of challenges to overcome as well as criticisms that they are not experienced enough to handle their new jobs. Additionally the fact that they even hold their positions is now being contested.

In this case it is the local branch of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc, doing the complaining. The State of Law had to deal with a lot of losses after the provincial elections.

And the provincial authority in Basra is currently being run by a coalition formed by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadrist movement, two Shiite Muslim groups who formerly supported Shiite Muslim Prime Minister al-Maliki but who have been departing from that alliance in many recent cases and in particular, following the provincial elections.

Basra’s new governor is certainly putting some pressure on Baghdad. He wants to increase Basra’s share of oil revenues and he also wants Baghdad to fulfil promises made to the previous provincial council, which was headed by the State of Law bloc. Those promises have been neglected since an opposition coalition took over, he says.

And now Sabah al-Bazouni, former head of the Basra’s provincial government and leader of the State of Law bloc in Basra, is complaining that Sainte-Laguë formula, the system used to work out who should be in power in Iraq after the provincial elections, was unfair.

The Sainte-Laguë system stops larger parties from gobbling up the votes smaller parties have won, if the smaller parties haven’t won enough votes to pass a certain threshold. And al-Bazouni thinks this has resulted in unfair results. He says that in terms of seats that resulted from the voting, his bloc only has a few more than parties who won a lot less votes then they did. Al-Bazouni says he has filed an official complaint with the local council.

Al-Bouzani also has plenty to say about the council’s performance so far. “There is confusion and chaos and the council is more dead than alive,” al-Bazouni says. “Not one committee has been formed because there is no majority group. The local government always waits for instructions from outside,” he added – the implication being that the political party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, of which Governor al-Nasrawi is a member, is having undue influence on provincial matters.

The spokesperson for Basra\'s provincial council, Hashem al-Luaibi, says that although they have found several electoral inconsistencies that needed to be investigated, the objection presented by the State of Law bloc was not one of them. “They’re related to the election of the governor and other senior members of the council,” al-Luaibi explains. These figures were all elected at one meeting on one day when in fact, the law says they should be elected consecutively – mainly because whoever leads the council then gets to nominate the governor.

However council member Juma al-Zaini, who led the council’s first session because he is its oldest member, dismisses allegations of violations. “The session, held Dec. 6, was announced in the media and all parties were notified of the date and time,” he says. Seven council members were absent from that first session of the 35-seat council, he admits, but they attended follow-up sessions and nobody had any problems with the way in which the governor was elected.

The Islamic Supreme Council denies that it is trying to influence the governor’s work in Basra. “He is performing in a strong and responsible way and without any direct intervention,” says Ali Faleh al-Kanaan, a spokesperson for the party. Anyway, al-Kanaan added, all the provinces where the State of Law lost are now coming under pressure.

As an example, he recounted problems with the recent dismissal of the local police chief in Basra. “The new governor had requested the man be dismissed because of several security breaches and 17 members of the council voted in favour. But all the State of Law bloc members were opposed. So the whole issue was put on hold.”

Basra’s governor cannot act in confidence because he doesn’t know if he will have the support of the central government, al-Kanaan explained.