After four eventful years, Iraq’s parliament will end its term on April 30. The main hallmarks: absentee MPs, a lot more press conferences and lack of progress on any laws that could benefit ordinary Iraqis.
Last week, the Speaker of Iraq’s parliament, Salim al-Jibouri announced that the last session of the current parliament would take place on April 30. This is despite the fact that the session should by rights, continue until June 30. However politicians in Iraq have already failed to attend sessions regularly because they are getting started with their election campaigning. Iraq will hold federal elections on May 12.
Last month, the Iraqi parliament sat only five times and this month there have been no official sessions. This is despite the fact that internal rules say there should be eight sessions every month. In fact dozens of sessions have resulted in inaction because of absenteeism and the resulting lack of quorum – that is, not enough MPs were there to make any vote on laws binding.
The official parliamentary website shows that 165 laws have been passed and 108 laws have not been approved, over the past four years since this parliamentary session started. The laws that were passed and which got the most attention included those that looked at parliamentary rules, political parties, the national oil company’s activities and how Iraq’s Shiite Muslim militias and its counter-terrorism forces should be regulated. None of these really had much to do with improving the lives of ordinary citizens though.
“Parliament has failed to pass important laws that touch on core social issues. In that regard, it has ignored laws that deal with the economy and the country’s wealth, as well as other important legal rulings that have been being ignored for years,” well known political analyst, writer and commentator, Ghalib al-Shahbandar, told NIQASH. “A lot of the MPS didn’t even bother to show up – an insult to the Iraqi voters. And the questioning of officials or ministers by parliament was just a formality. Some MPs only support this questioning for the purposes of election propaganda.”
The all-important laws that parliament failed to tackle yet again, in the past four years, include amendments to the Iraqi Constitution, the Federal Public Service Council, which is supposed to deal with the recruitment of civil servants, and further laws on oil and gas, which lie behind ongoing conflicts between the central government and Iraqi Kurdish authorities, as well as between the central government and southern oil-producing provinces.
One of the most important laws that has been left hanging – yet again – is the one that would support the establishment of the so-called Federation Council. This body is supposed to act in a similar way to the US Senate, the German Bundesrat or the House of Lords in the UK and Articles 46 and 62 of the Iraqi Constitution specify such a body should exist.
“The delay in the formation of this body is a clear violation of the evolution of the country’s institutions,” argues Ayas al-Samouk, a spokesperson for the Federal Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial body. “Right now legislative authority is directly linked to parliament, which is a problem. And we don’t know why the council has never been formed,” he adds.
“Some people think any such council would be useless, if its powers are not properly defined,” al-Samouk continued. “But it is a must, according to the Constitution. It should be one of the pillars of legislative authority in this country.”
One area in which the parliament did keep busy was when it came to summoning politicians and ministers for special questioning. There is a difference between summoning an MP to parliament and bringing them in for questioning. Questioning is often done in relation to accusations of corruption and could eventually lead to the MP or minister’s dismissal. Summoning is done in order to discuss certain issues or clarify certain matters.
Parliamentary archives show that eight officials were called in for the more serious questioning. MPs then voted to dismiss two ministers, defence minister Khalid al-Obeidi, and finance minister Hoshyar Zebari. Both of those decisions were seen as politically motivated.
Parliament also summoned 31 officials, 11 of whom reported directly to Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi. The prime minister was also called into parliament by MPs and unlike his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki who just ignored such calls, al-Abadi was cooperative.
However in reality, all the questioning and summoning did not amount to much. MPs did not seem to be able to hold those officials who failed at certain tasks – such as, for example, the leaders of security forces in 2014 – accountable.
The other major problem that Iraqi parliamentarians did not manage to solve over the past four years was the absenteeism issue. During the last sitting, on March 24, there were 174 out of 328 MPs present. That is not unusual. In fact, many sittings had to be cancelled or postponed due to a lack of quorum. Depending on the law being debated, the rules in Iraq say either 50 percent or two-thirds of MPs need to be there to vote on it. The lack of quorum has been a long-standing problem in Baghdad. Senior officials threatened to sanction those who did not turn up but apparently nobody really cared.
Additionally the rules regulating behaviour in parliament say that if any MP is absent from a sitting five consecutive times, or 10 non-consecutive times, then their salary will be docked, the amount to be specified by parliament itself. The names of MPs who attend or do not attend are also supposed to be published in local newspapers, so voters can see whether their representatives are representing them.
MP Haneen al-Qaddo, an MP from the northern province of Ninawa, believes the failure to follow through on those sanctions and fines was a mistake.
“During every single sitting, there are around 100 MPs absent,” al-Qaddo notes. “It is an extremely negative phenomenon that is preventing parliament from doing its work.”
The absence of MPs and the lack of progress on some of Iraq’s most important laws did not stop MPs from getting into some vigorous debates though; in fact, at times, they even got into fisticuffs. Reporters who regularly sit in the press gallery told NIQASH that one of the biggest differences between this session of parliament and others was the amount of press conferences held. There were many more this time around, they say. Unfortunately, the journalists suggest, a lot of these were devoted to accusations or disparagements directed at political enemies.