The Iraqi parliament in session. (photo: البرلمان العراقي )
At the rate the formation of the next Iraqi government is going, the former Iraqi administration will have to keep running the country for a while. But any interim government will not come under the oversight of MPs in parliament, and this is of concern to many politicians.
Political parties who got the most votes have certainly been negotiating as to how to form the next government, and who will be running things. “But up until now these have not been very serious negotiations because they are waiting for election results to be ratified,” says Wael Abdul-Latif, a Shiite Muslim MP and a former governor of Basra. “After this is done, real negotiations will start. But,” he adds, “we are now waiting for manual re-counts. And nobody knows when that work will be finished.”
The government shouldn’t continue with its full powers in the absence of any checks and balances from a supervisory authority, such as the parliament.
According to the Iraqi constitution, the results of any election should be ratified a month after the day the vote was held – so this year, that would have been June 12. Two weeks before the end of the previous parliament’s term in office, the Iraqi president should be able to summon the new parliament’s MPs to hold their first session in Baghdad. The official term of the previous parliament ended on June 30. So that should have happened around mid-June too. However the various accusations of electoral fraud have made it impossible to stick to those dates.
A new commission made up of judges was appointed to lead the recounting efforts in seven provinces – Kirkuk, Dohuk, Sulaymaniyah, Erbil, Mosul, Salahaddin and Anbar – and this process began last Tuesday. However it was not specified as to how long their work would take. When the commission is finished, their results will be presented to the country’s highest court for approval and any new objections can be submitted then.
Nobody knows what the outcome will be – but one thing is certain: The current administration, headed by the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, is going to be in charge for a bit longer, in the absence of a new government. But who will oversee them?
MPs have tried several times already to extend their term for another six months so that they can remain in power alongside the executive. However al-Abadi did not attend a meeting organized by the Iraqi president that included the leaders of the major parties to discuss the matter - yet another worrying sign for some.
“It is wrong for the government to continue to work like this without a parliament,” says Sabah al-Saidi, a Shiite Muslim MP with the Sadrist-led political alliance which won the most votes on May 12. “This is why the powers of the government should be limited to the everyday business of running the country. There is nothing in the Constitution about this but the government shouldn’t continue with its full powers in the absence of any checks and balances from a supervisory authority, such as the parliament.”
Mansour al-Baiji, an MP for the Shiite Muslim alliance, State of Law, thought that the commission appointed to recount votes should hurry. Because “it is not right for the government to perform caretaker functions, without a parliament,” he argued.
In fact, the Iraqi Constitution does mention a form of “caretaker government” twice, but only briefly and the mentions don’t go into detail about such an administration’s rights and responsibilities.
This is dangerous and the situation could continue for a long time.
Article 61 talks about what happens in the case of a vote of no confidence, whereby the prime minister and ministers are allowed to keep running the country for no longer than 30 days. Article 64 talks about what happens if parliament is dissolved early – it says that elections should be held within 60 days of the day of dissolution and that the cabinet can continue to run everyday business until then, even though it has also effectively been dissolved.
But none of that explains how to proceed in this case, when the formation of the next government is delayed. That is why some locals are calling this situation part of the country’s “Constitutional vacuum”. There have been many problems with the interpretation of the Constitution since it was adopted in 2005.
This so-called constitutional vacuum “gives the government absolute power without parliamentarians having any control,” complains Farah Basil Sharif, an MP and a member of the parliamentary committee on legal affairs. “This is dangerous and the situation could continue for a long time if negotiations to form the government take a long time and the accusations of electoral fraud are not promptly resolved.”
“The current government still enjoys its full powers,” local legal expert, Tareq Harb, points out. “An administration is only considered a caretaker government when confidence is withdrawn from it, or if parliament is dissolved before the end of its term. Those parties who are saying that the current government should have its powers restricted, need some kind of constitutional text to support their demands,” he told NIQASH. Unfortunately for them, presently they do not.