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Iraqi MPs Try for Third Time to Elect New President

Iraqi MPs Try for Third Time to Elect New President

Wednesday, 30 March, 2022 - 09:00
A combination of pictures shows Iraq's leading presidential candidates Rebar Ahmed (L) and Barham Saleh (R) -, Ludovic MARIN Kurdistan Regional Government/AFP/File

Iraqi lawmakers were Wednesday set to try for a third time to elect a new national president after two previous attempts failed because of boycotts.

Half a year after October 2021 legislative elections, Iraq still does not have a new president or prime minister, keeping the war-scarred country in a state of political paralysis.

Parliamentarians must first elect the head of state, by convention a member of the Kurdish minority, with a two thirds majority. The president then appoints the head of government, a post now held by Mustafa al-Kadhemi.

Among the 40 candidates for the presidency, two are considered the frontrunners: incumbent Barham Saleh, of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Rebar Ahmed of the rival Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

Last Saturday, the lack of a quorum -- set at two-thirds of the house's 329 members -- held up the vote for a second time since February, a turbulent month when the Iraqi judiciary intervened.

On February 13, Iraq's supreme court had ruled out a presidential bid by KDP-backed veteran politician Hoshyar Zebari, after a complaint filed against him over years-old, untried corruption charges.

Iraqi politics were thrown into turmoil following October's election, which was marred by record low turnout, post-vote threats and violence, and a months-long delay before the final results were confirmed.

The largest political bloc, led by cleric Moqtada Sadr, had backed Zebari for the presidency and has now thrown its weight behind Ahmed.

Saturday's failed session underscored the sharp divide in Iraqi politics between Sadr, the general election's big winner, and the powerful Coordination Framework, which had called for a boycott.

The Coordination Framework includes former premier Nuri al-Maliki's party and the pro-Iran Fatah Alliance -- the political arm of Hashed al-Shaabi.

Sadr supports Ahmed for the presidency and intends to entrust the post of prime minister to his cousin and brother-in-law Jaafar Sadr, Iraq's ambassador to Britain.

This is unbearable for the Coordination Framework bloc.

"There have been no serious negotiations so far... If there is no agreement, we will boycott Wednesday's session," lawmaker Bahaa al-Nuri, spokesman for Maliki's State of Law coalition, told AFP.

Iraq's federal court has given MPs until April 6 to choose a new president. If that deadline is missed, said political scientist Hamza Haddad, "we could reach a point where new elections are decided to break the deadlock".

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