Iraqi rivals fail to elect president as deadline approaches

BAGHDAD: A vote in Iraq’s parliament to decide the next president was delayed until Tuesday as a deadline for filling the post approaches.

What should have been a routine procedure to approve a presidential candidate nominated by Kurdish parties, has descended into the latest crisis to affect the formation of the next government.

On Monday night, not enough MPs were present to reach a quorum to hold the vote, just 48 hours before someone must fill the largely ceremonial post, lawmakers told Arab News.

The session was postponed until midday on Tuesday to give Kurdish political forces more time to agree on one candidate, negotiators said.

According to a gentleman’s agreement adopted by Iraq’s political factions in 2005, the president is a post chosen by the Kurds.

The two main powers in Iraq’s Kurdish regions, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), have previously been unified in their dealings in Baghdad with Sunni and Shiite parties, and agreed on a single candidate.

But this time, after a deep dispute related to a failed Kurdish bid for independence last year, both parties are insisting on their right to take the post. The PUK has nominated Barham Salih, the veteran politician, while the KDP has nominated Fuad Hussein, the personal secretary of Massoud Barzani, head of the party.

Monday’s session was attended by 158 MPs out of 329 after the heads of the main alliances asked members to stay away, buying more time for the Kurdish forces to agree on one candidate. To win the post, a candidate has to get at least 210 votes. 

The leaders of the two biggest parliamentary blocs are the only two who can secure the required number to win the post. “Reform” is sponsored by influential cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, and Al-Binna’a is backed by Iran.

Both refused to vote for any candidates and asked the Kurdish rivals to agree on one candidate before going back to the parliament.

The alternative is an open vote, in which MPs would not have to follow instructions from their blocs, lawmakers attending the session told Arab News.

Initial indications showed Salih is the most likely to win the post, mostly because he is unlikely to adopt radical policies on Kurdish issues. 

Salih’s party, the PUK, refused to fight Iraqi forces when they regained control of the oil hub Kirkuk and other disputed areas a year ago. The military operation was launched after an independence referendum, held against the wishes of Iraqi and international powers.

“Our deputies will vote for Barham (Salih). Both Reform and Al-Binna’a alliances have agreed to vote for him,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News. “We have told Barzani that his candidate will lose and he has to withdraw him. Otherwise the choice will be for the deputies and he (Barzani) will get nothing in return.

“They have to make a deal before the next session.”

The election of the president is the second step in the process of forming a government. 

According to the constitution it must take place within 30 days of the election of the speaker of parliament.

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