Plans to hold Iraqi parliamentary elections in January are once again facing uncertainty, after Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi indicated that he was vetoing part of the electoral law, passed on November 8. As a result, Iraq's electoral commission says it has halted preparations for the general election scheduled for January.
Word that the Iraqi vice president was vetoing the much debated and only recently passed electoral law casts the specter of raucous new debate and possibly a political vacuum if parliamentary elections are postponed.
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Sunni Arab Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, whose community has complained repeatedly about being marginalized in the post-Saddam Hussein political arena, insists Iraqis living abroad should have greater representation in Iraq's new parliament.
He says that he has told the speaker of parliament that he is vetoing the (recently passed) electoral law, and sending it back to legislators to be amended. He insists that Iraqis living abroad were under-represented in parliament and their number of seats should be increased. He stressed, however, that he was only vetoing one clause of the electoral law and that he does not believe the veto will force a delay in elections (scheduled for January).
Al-Hashemi argues Iraqis living abroad, many of whom belong to his Sunni Arab community, should have 15 percent of the seats in Iraq's new parliament and not just the five percent originally allotted to them.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who belongs to the rival Shi'ite Arab community, criticized the move, immediately, saying that he was "shocked by the veto," calling it a "threat to the political process ... and a flouting of Iraq's national interests."
Al-Hashemi's political gambit follows another vocal announcement Tuesday by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani that Kurds and other minorities are not given fair representation in parliament by the just-approved electoral law, and that it must be amended.
Iraq electoral commission member Qassem al-Aboudi says the veto by Mr. Hashemi has forced the body to freeze its work. He says the veto of the electoral law and a potential change in the allotment of seats calls into question ballots that are being drawn up and therefore the electoral commission must freeze all its operations until a new electoral law is approved.
Selim al-Jabbouri of the Iraqi Islamic Party stated the veto of Iraq's electoral law "puts the entire process back to square one."
A lengthy debate to amend Iraq's electoral law would almost certainly postpone parliamentary elections beyond January, raising the specter of a political vacuum, and possible violence, after their terms in office expire.
Such a scenario could adversely affect the U.S. military's planned draw down of combat forces from Iraq, which is due to begin 60 days after the elections.