By Prashant Rao -
IRAQ will tomorrow finally open its new parliament, the latest step in a more than three-month saga since elections that failed to usher in a new government. The opening session of the 325-seat Council of Representatives marks the first tangible step forward for the war-battered country’s fledgling democracy since nationwide polls on March 7 resulted in political deadlock.
Diplomats and politicians, however, warned ahead of tomorrow’s opening that a new government continues to appear some way off, and
that it may be several months before the fine detail on the country’s new leaders takes shape.
US forces are steadily being pulled out of Iraq and a new administration in Baghdad is seen as key to a smooth withdrawal of all American troops — 88,000 remain in country — by the end of 2011. Former premier Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc won most seats, 91, in the election, followed closely by Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s State of Law Alliance, which won 89. Despite losing, Maliki has battled to hold on to his post, calling for multiple recounts of ballots he said were fraudulent, which delayed the certification of results until earlier this month.
State of Law has also formed a coalition with the election’s third-placed grouping, the Iraqi National Alliance (INA), in a bid to cancel out Allawi’s narrow lead. But the newly created National Alliance remains four seats short of the 163 seats it needs for a majority in the 325-seat parliament, and has yet to name a leader it will put forward for the post of prime minister.
As a result, the selection of a new parliamentary speaker and president — meant to precede the naming of a new premier — is likely to be part of a grand bargain between Iraq’s competing political blocs and religious groups. And that will further delay the formation of a new government.
“I do not expect any government to be formed before Ramadan,” said a senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, referring to the Muslim holy month which this year is set to begin in mid-August.
“If something happens on Monday, however, like the election of the speaker, that is a good sign, because that means there is broad agreement for the framework of a deal.”
Delays to the formation of a coalition government have largely been attributed to the INA’s refusal to countenance Maliki retaining his position.
State of Law have insisted that the incumbent, who garnered more votes than any other candidate in the election, serve another term.
Several MPs have likened the current government formation process to that which followed Iraq’s first post-invasion parliamentary elections in 2005, when six months passed before a prime minister was chosen.
At the time, Iraq’s competing religious groups jockeyed for key posts, with a Shiite holding the premiership post, a Sunni Arab becoming speaker of parliament and a Kurd president.