Iraqi parliament seeks to end election crisis

AP News
Posted: Nov 21, 2009 10:06 AM

Iraqi lawmakers on Saturday sought a compromise in a dispute over an election law that was vetoed by a vice president, throwing national polls slated for January into question.

Parliament had planned to vote Saturday on how to resolve the issue, but delayed the proceeding until Sunday while lawmakers attempted to find a solution acceptable to all political blocs in a nation marked by ethnic and sectarian divisions.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, vetoed the legislation earlier this week because he wants more seats allocated for Iraqis living abroad, most of whom are Sunnis who fled the war. The demand reflects a sense of insecurity among many Sunnis who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein, but now must contend with a resurgent Shiite majority.

Lawmakers have the option of sending the same law back to the presidency council _ where it is likely to be vetoed again _ or amending the bill to address al-Hashemi's concerns.

Parliament can override a second veto with a three-fifths majority, but lawmakers were trying to craft an amendment that would satisfy rival factions and avoid the divisive and time-consuming impact of another veto.

The constitution requires the election to be held by the end of January, and a delay could undermine Iraq's fledgling democracy and fragile institutions. The United States has tied the pace of its troop withdrawal to the election date, but the top American commander in Iraq says the schedule is on track for now.

Parliament Speaker Ayad al-Samarraie announced that the vote in the 275-seat parliament on whether to send the law back to the three-member presidency had been delayed until Sunday.

"We apologize to the Iraqi people and the lawmakers because a consensus suggestion was supposed to be presented amending the vetoed items, but they haven't reached an agreement yet," al-Samarie said.

The national elections are a key marker in Iraq's struggle for political stability, and the deadlock over the election law is troubling to Iraqis who are keen to have a say in their country's future.

Currently, the law says 5 percent of the 323 seats in the next parliament should be allotted to groups including minorities and Iraqi expatriates. Al-Hashemi has said the percentage should be increased to 15.

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, said one proposal that was discussed Saturday would take the middle ground and allot 10 percent as national seats.

Kurdish leaders have also raised objections about the 2010 elections, saying the three northern provinces they control should get more seats in the next parliament. Lawmakers discussed those complaints on Saturday, but no solution was reached.