9-17-2012 Reidar Visser (Modern Iraq Historian): It looks as if it is going to be a long session for Iraq’s parliament today, so here are some initial reflections on the reported vote by parliament to approve 8 out of 9 new members of the country’s independent electoral commission (IHEC). All that follows is based on the assumption that initial press reports about the vote and the identity of the new councilors are correct. The official parliamentary report is due later today and should be taken as the final word. For many weeks, the battlefront regarding the make-up of the new electoral commission board has concerned its size. The decision last week to keep the current size of the board (9 members) was seen as a setback for Prime Minister Maliki, who had apparently hoped to expand the board to 15 with the aim of diluting the political influence of his enemies.

It can be worthwhile, therefore, to begin with a brief look at the political composition of the new board and compare it to the old one. Most reports suggest that of the 8 new commissioners, 4 are from the Shiite alliance (two from Daawa, one from ISCI, one from the Sadrists), two are from the secular and increasingly Sunni-backed Iraqiyya and two are from the Kurdistan alliance. There is an unresolved question as to whether a final ninth member of the commission, supposedly a minority representative, will be a Turkmen or a Christian. Compare this with the previous IHEC, which pre-dated Maliki’s rise to power. It also had 4 Shiite Islamists, but only 1 was considered close to Maliki – the rest being closer to ISCI, Fadila and the Sadrists respectively. There were 2 Kurds (same as today), but Iraqiyya had only one commissioner close to them, the two remaining members of the board originally having been considered close to the Shiite Islamist Tawafuq alliance.

On the balance, then, Maliki has apparently seen his position improve slightly, but not a lot. The ISCI-Iraqiyya-Kurdish-Sadrist alliance that threatened him earlier this year commands perhaps as many as 6 seats on the new board. It makes you understand why Maliki had wanted 15 commissioners instead, ideally with some space for his newfound allies in the smaller parliamentary blocs among the Kurdish opposition and the Iraqiyya splinter groups. Today, there were even reports that members of the second branch of Maliki’s Daawa party, the Tanzim al-Iraq faction, were unhappy that the mainline Daawa had monopolized two commissioner seats for the State of Law coalition to which they both belong.

Every little will count, in other words, so it will be interesting to see who the ninth commissioner will be, whether Turkmen or Christian. One Iraqiyya spokesman has already said he is in favour of the Turkmen female candidate, Gulshan Kamal. It should be added in this respect that there is no legal or constitutional requirement that any sect be represented. The IHEC law from 2007 only stipulates that there should be at least 2 lawyers on the board, that the rest should be “experts” in electoral affairs, that they should be politically independent, and that the representation of women should be taken into regard.

It seems the female representation requirement has been given only a very symbolic nod today (in the possible ninth seat for a Turkmen female). The political “independence” criterion hasn’t been taken seriously at any point since the IHEC law was passed. From the legal point of view, perhaps the most glaring question is whether a parliament vote on 8 members is valid when 9 are called for by the law. In any case, attention will now turn to the local elections scheduled for 2013. Perhaps those elections, in turn, can produce some new alliances that can help breathe life into Iraq’s stalemated politics.