Iraqi lawmakers fail to elect new president

Iraq's parliament indefinitely postpones presidential election

Iraq’s parliament indefinitely postpones presidential election. Photo via AFP

Iraq’s parliament cancelled the vote for a new head of state on Monday as it lacked the quorum to hold a session, three lawmakers said, a move that prolongs a political standoff.

Only 58 members out of 329 were present on Monday, which is less than the necessary two-thirds quorum needed to choose a new president for the mostly ceremonial post.

On Sunday many lawmakers said they would boycott the proceedings after the Supreme Court suspended a former foreign minister’s presidential bid over graft allegations.

The court said on Sunday that the candidacy of Hoshyar Zebari, a Western-friendly veteran Iraqi Kurdish statesman, could not proceed until corruption charges from a separate 2016 stint as finance minister were dealt with.

Zebari said on Sunday that he respected the court decision and denied the allegations.

“The majority of the political parties boycotted today’s session due to the lack of a political agreement over the president post,” Sunni lawmaker Mishaan Jabouri said.

“Parliament will not convene until an agreement is in place.”

The decision was a blow to populist Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who was the biggest winner in an October election. He had vowed to quickly push through a government that could exclude Iranian allies.

Sadr, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) of which Zebari is a member and an alliance of Sunni Muslim lawmakers had supported Zebari’s bid for president.

The corruption allegations resurfaced after Zebari emerged as a strong contender, and Sadr eventually appeared to withdraw his support, saying in a statement that any future president must “meet the conditions” to hold office.

Sadr had campaigned in the election on an anti-corruption platform.

Sadr’s Sadrist Bloc said on Saturday it would boycott Monday’s parliament session.

A political alliance aligned with Iran said in a statement on Sunday it was against the holding of the Monday parliamentary session to pick a president.

The KDP also said on Sunday it would boycott proceedings.

Zebari who served as foreign minister for more than a decade, was finance minister when he was sacked by parliament in 2016 over alleged corruption.

Last week four parliamentarians filed a petition to the federal court demanding Zebari’s exclusion from the presidential race, accusing him of financial and administrative corruption in 2016.

In its ruling, the court said it had temporarily suspended Zebari’s candidacy until the case is resolved.

Iraq normally enters months of political deadlock after each general election as the political elite jockey for spots in the new government. Iraqis are increasingly disillusioned with the political process, accusing almost all their politicians of corruption.

Under Iraq’s governing system in place since the post-Saddam Hussein constitution was adopted in 2005, the prime minister is a member of the Shiite majority, the speaker is a Sunni and the largely ceremonial role of president is held by a Kurd.

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