Iraq will plunge in constitutional vacuum on Wednesday after parliament thrice failed to elect a new president.
Forty candidates are running for the post, including incumbent Barham Salih, nominated by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Rebar Ahmed, nominated by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Ahmed was nominated after the Federal Supreme Court barred former foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari from running over corruption allegations.
In Iraq, the president is traditionally Kurdish, the prime minister Shiite and the parliament speaker Sunni. The norm has no constitutional basis, but the Shiites have usually claimed the post of premier, the country's top executive post, because they make up the majority of the population.
The choice of president is usually divided between the KDP and PUK - the two largest Kurdish parties. An agreement between had stipulated that the president of the Kurdistan Region would be a member of the KDP and the Iraqi president a member of the PUK.
However, the death of former President Jalal Talbani in 2013 left the agreement in disarray and Fuad Masoum, a member of the PUK, became president (2014-2018)
Disputes between the rival parties ensued in 2018 when the KDP sought to name one of its members as president. Failing to reach an agreement, they each named a candidate, Salih and current foreign minister Fuad Hussein, a member of the KDP, were nominated. Salih was ultimately elected.
The disputes between the rivals persisted even after his election, which has weighed heavily on this year's presidential polls.
The supreme court ruled that Salih would remain in his position until a successor is elected. It also called on the parliament to allow candidates to keep submitting their nominations until April 6.
The disputes between the two main Kurdish parties are not the only obstacle in the elections. The rival Shiite camps are embroiled in a dispute over who boasts the largest bloc in parliament. Whoever claims the largest bloc will hold sway over the presidential elections.
Neither the Sadrist movement, led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, nor the pro-Iran Coordination Framework have managed to persuade enough lawmakers to join their blocs.
Sadr has formed an alliance with Sunni and Kurdish figures, but they do not boast 220 members to ensure the needed two-thirds quorum at parliament to elect a president.
The Coordination Framework, the main loser in the October 2021 parliamentary elections, has also failed in forming the largest bloc. Sadr was the main victor in the elections.
If the disputes persist, the supreme court may be forced to dissolve the parliament because it would have stumbled at the first hurdle after the polls and that is the election of a new president.