As soon as the results of the Iraqi provincial council elections in April 2013 were announced, some within political circles and the media speculated that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki may seek to postpone parliamentary elections scheduled for next spring to an unspecified date.
The speculations were triggered by a significant decline in Maliki’s popularity, as seen in the provincial elections. This decline, of course, is due to the failure of Maliki's government to achieve its promises, particularly in the area of security and public services.
Initially, there were speculations that Maliki may resort to postponement to buy some time and regain his lost popularity. But later, a rumor arose of the possibility that Maliki and his coalition may conduct a coup against the democratic path of the political process.
This possibility was raised by a Sadrist MP, thus making the coup scenario more credible. The Sadrists are the allies of the State of Law coalition within the National Iraqi Alliance, the largest partner in the current government. They know what is happening on the inside.
In a press statement, Iraqi MP Amir al-Kanani said he feared that there will be no peaceful transfer of power if “the results of the upcoming elections turn out different than what Maliki is aiming for.”
Could Maliki really reject the very process that allowed him and his party to reach positions of power?
It is true that Maliki’s own allies are talking about a clear trend on his part to act individually and concentrate power in his hands. But it is very difficult to imagine that he would stage a coup. Such an action would not only provoke Maliki’s opponents from among the Sunnis, Kurds and secular nationalists, but also all of his Shiite allies, like the Sadrists, the Supreme Islamic Council and the socially and politically influential Shiite authority in Najaf. Najaf is ready to take a strong position against Maliki if he stages such an operation. Maliki’s government is being publicly criticized by Najaf every week in Friday prayer sermons because of his government’s failure to provide security and services.
One of Maliki’s reasonable options is to postpone the parliamentary elections under the pretext of an unsuitable security situation. Some analysts consider Maliki’s postponement of the last local elections in the provinces of Anbar and Ninevah to be a dress rehearsal for the postponement of the parliamentary elections. The security situation has greatly deteriorated in recent months in a way not seen since the end of the sectarian war in 2008. Since May, more than a thousand people were killed and 2,500 injured by the violence. That situation will likely continue for months.
In July, State of Law MP Ihsan al-Awadi said, “There are no plans to extend the current parliament’s mandate. The elections will be held on schedule.”
On Aug. 5, Kurdistan Alliance MP Ashwaq al-Jaff said that some in parliament wish to extend Maliki’s mandate by eight months. “There are some conversations in the corridors of parliament looking into extending the mandate of the current government by eight months under the consideration that there was a delay before the government was formed, and so it has not completed its legal mandate,” she said. But she also considered that “not to be positive,” because “Maliki did nothing in his two consecutive terms that justifies extending [his mandate].” Jaff is considered a credible source of information.
In addition to the deteriorating security situation, Maliki may use another issue to justify election postponement. Parliament is supposed to amend the electoral law ahead of the elections. The Federal Supreme Court has ruled that the current law is unconstitutional because it adopted a closed-list system.
The electoral law for the governorate councils was amended by adopting the so-called “Saint Lego” system, where the electoral lists are open. But the State of Law coalition blamed its loss in the recent elections on that system, and thus opposes applying it in the parliamentary elections.
In June, State of Law MP Walid al-Hilli — who is close to Maliki — said, “The Saint Lego election system doesn’t apply to the parliamentary elections scheduled for next year.” His colleague Ali al-Allak said that Saint Lego is a “failed system” and stressed that his coalition would seek to change the law and prevent the upcoming parliamentary elections from being held according to the Saint Lego law.
If Maliki’s coalition does not secure the support of one of the large blocs such as Iraqiya or the Kurdistan Alliance, then the road is at a dead end regarding the election law, and that dead end may end up postponing the election, because Maliki’s Shiite allies — the Sadrist movement and the Supreme Council — have explicitly declared that they are with the Saint Lego system.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists.