First Published: 2009-10-22

 
Iraq MPs take aim at election commission
 

Iraq’s electoral commission facing allegations of corruption, poor supervising of elections.

 

Middle East Online

By Faleh Hassan - BAGHDAD

IHEC officials have denied the accusations

Iraq’s electoral commission is facing allegations of corruption and of poorly supervising elections, with some members of parliament calling for reforms that could delay the country’s January polls.

The charges were recently voiced in a parliamentary inquiry into the Independent High Electoral Commission, IHEC, which posed the most serious challenge to the body’s credibility since it was established in 2007.

Deputies who are sharply critical of IHEC’s performance want the commission overhauled and supervised, with some pushing parliament to hold a no-confidence vote against its commissioners this week.

But some analysts and political leaders said the vote may not be held because it could force the resignation of IHEC officials, creating turmoil in the commission and potentially delaying the parliamentary election.

“If IHEC goes down now, there is no alternative or substitute except to create a new board of commissioners, which will take time,” said Hogar Chato, spokesman for Shams, an independent Iraqi election monitoring organisation. “This will force the election to be postponed.”

United Nations and United States officials expressed concern a week ago that the January parliamentary election could be delayed due to a stalemate in Iraq’s parliament over a new election law and proposals to overhaul IHEC shortly before the election. Parliament is expected to vote on the election law this week.

The parliamentary poll is considered an important benchmark of the country’s stability and democratic progress.

In parliamentary hearings on IHEC’s performance, members of parliament accused it of misusing public funds and making decisions that they said favoured Iraq’s most influential parties.

IHEC officials have denied accusations of impropriety, including allegations that commission chief Faraj Haideri, a former official with the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, accepted bribes from Kurdistan region president and KDP leader Massoud Barzani during the Kurdish parliamentary and presidential election in July.

Deputies also said commissioners used IHEC’s funds to purchase personal vehicles and furniture for their homes. Haideri told IWPR that all items were purchased and owned by IHEC.

“The accusations concerning car ownership and the other charges are false,” he said. “They don’t have any concrete evidence.”

Haideri said the commission intends to file lawsuits against member of parliament Jamal al-Batik, who made the bribery accusation, and the Kurdish newspaper Hawlati for publishing the charge “without providing a shred of evidence”.

Nuri Osman, a senior KDP official and spokesman for the region’s cabinet, told IWPR the bribery claims levelled against Barzani were “unfair” and “completely baseless”.

Barzani’s office did not immediately return calls seeking comment. However, in a recent interview with the Arabic-language Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, Barzani spokesman Fuad Hussein also denied that the Kurdish region’s presidency offered any bribes to the IHEC, before or after the Kurdish regional elections this summer.

In addition, IHEC commissioners have been interrogated about Iraq’s provincial council poll in February, including IHEC’s decision to reject recount appeals by losing parties and discrepancies between provisional and final results. Deputies said that over 80,000 ballots were unaccounted for in Baghdad in the provincial poll and raised concerns that ink on voters’ fingers could easily be washed off.

Several parties raised similar concerns about the IHEC shortly after the provincial council and Kurdish parliamentary and presidential ballots this year. Commissioners denied any wrongdoing, and the IHEC, along with some political leaders and independent monitors, said that the charges were made by coalitions that were unhappy with the final results.

While many deputies are critical of the IHEC’s performance, some believe that the parliamentary inquiry could be politically motivated to influence the election.

Sceptics argue that discrediting the election commission could help delay the poll or put candidates in a better position to challenge the results. They also say that members of parliament leading the charge can campaign as advocates of transparency and accountability – two issues that are especially important for Iraqi voters who are fed up with corruption.

Sabah al-Saadi, chairman of parliament’s integrity committee, defended the inquiry as a “constitutional right practiced by members in accordance with their parliamentary duties” and said it was “essential to democracy-building”.

Karim al-Yakoobi, a deputy with the Shia Fadhila party, spearheaded calls for IHEC to be investigated in April and organised a petition signed by 50 members to question the commission in July. The Fadhila party suffered heavy losses in the provincial council elections in January, losing ground to a coalition led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa party.

Yakoobi said the timing of the questioning, just three months prior to the parliamentary election, was suspicious but he defended the hearings as just.

The inquiry, which was broadcast on state-run television, “shows that there are significant breaches in IHEC’s work”, he said.

Yakoobi is leading the push for the no-confidence vote against IHEC’s commissioners this week. Other proposals include creating a parliamentary committee to oversee IHEC’s work and sending polling station workers to other provinces, which some believe could cut the chances of fraud.

UN Iraq envoy Ad Melkert released a statement last week cautioning parliament against making major changes to IHEC prior to the January poll, saying reforms “would severely disrupt the ongoing electoral preparations to the point that it would not be possible to hold credible elections until a considerably later date”.

He encouraged the assembly to wait until after the parliamentary election to evaluate IHEC’s performance, saying that with UN support, the “IHEC should be able to deliver credible election results in January 2010 that will be broadly accepted by all political factions and the Iraqi voters”.

IHEC commissioner Hamdiya Husseini told IWPR the commission was not concerned about a no-confidence vote.

“IHEC’s election preparations are well under way and continuing,” she said in a statement.

Faleh Hassan is an IWPR-trained reporter in Baghdad. IWPR-trained journalist Basim al-Shara contributed to this report from Baghdad.

 

US says Assad may be preparing another chemical attack

Over 8,000 migrants rescued in Med in 48 hours

Yemen cholera outbreak shows signs of slowing

Rouhani seizes opportunity to get closer to Qatar

Eid revives Tunisian tradition of pastry making

Hamas says travel documents for sick Gazans being refused

Former Syrian defence minister Mustafa Tlass dies in Paris

Iran says US reinstating travel ban 'regrettable'

GCC construction outlook to improve with oil prices recovery and implementation of reforms

57 dead in US-led strikes on IS Syria prison

Kremlin denounces US ‘threats’ against Assad

Mattis says US wants to steer clear of war in Syria

Mali activists call for referendum to be abandoned

Iraq forces battle deep into devastated Old Mosul

Iraqi forces control two thirds of Mosul Old City

Banned Bahraini newspaper fires staff

New crown prince widely welcomed in Saudi Arabia

Assad leads Eid prayers in Syria’s Hama

Lone-wolf attacks raise concern about new trend in terror

Erdogan slams Saudi demands of Qatar as illegal

Sudan making 'positive' steps on meeting US sanctions terms

Mecca suicide bombing injures six

Gulf crisis heats up as Qatar receives list of demands

Suicide attacks kill at least three people in Mosul

Civilians killed in Iraq suicide bomb attacks

UN warns Yemen cholera outbreak could infect 300,000 by September

Putin launches deep-water phase of TurkStream pipeline

Berlin warns Ankara against meddling in religious affairs

Asian states downplay 'Russia proposal' to send troops to Syria

Iran’s Salehi urges West to save historic nuclear deal

Iran, allies mark Jerusalem Day with rallies

US-led Syria strikes kill 472 civilians in one month

Morocco dismantles 'IS-linked cell plotting tourist attacks'

France sets out tough new anti-terror law

Russia warships, submarine strike IS targets in Syria

Trump-Saudi ties help pave way for new Saudi crown prince

Makeshift clinic saves lives near Syria’s Raqa

Egyptian fuel helps restart Gaza power station

Rights groups say Morocco protest leader 'severely beaten' during arrest

5 killed in Mogadishu car bomb attack

UN experts urge Egypt to halt executions after 'flawed trials'

Qatar emir congratulates newly-appointed Saudi crown prince

Kushner hails 'productive' Palestine-Israel talks

Macron says removing Assad no longer priority in Syria

Turkey sends first aid ship to isolated ally Qatar