Maliki’s Push to Gut Election Watchdog Fails

Other parties distrust IHEC, but see it as bulwark to Maliki dictatorship

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s long-running assault on democracy took an amusing new twist last week when a coordinated attempt to oust the members of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) backfired on him.  

During a gathering last Thursday, parliament was expected to pass a no-confidence motion against the IHEC, which is an independent body supervised by parliament and the United Nations to oversee elections. Only 94 lawmakers voted to sack the IHEC members even though many had earlier promised Maliki to support the measure.  

Hanan Fatlawi, a member of the prime minister’s State of Law (SLC) party, had triggered the no-confidence vote by claiming she had evidence of IHEC corruption. After the measure failed she accused parliament itself of corruption.

Another party member, Khaled al-Asadi, further tried to tie the alleged malfeasance to Maliki’s main political rival, former PM Ayad Allawi, of the Iraqiya party. Last year, the SLC bloc lost to Iraqiya by only two seats during parliamentary elections. The close outcome prompted a recount overseen by the IHEC.  

Iraqiya has also lobbed accusations of corruption at the commission, but prefers it to no watchdog at all. Before the election last year, the IHEC had allowed the exclusion of 500 candidates. Many on the blacklist were Sunni or Iraqiya members. And after the election, Allawi accused the IHEC of bowing to pressure from Maliki by limiting ballot recounts to Baghdad province, where the premier was likely to pick up extra votes. 

They weren’t enough to help Maliki. He spent several months struggling to keep his seat for a second term, apparently creating bad blood between him and the commission. In January, he even tried to have the Supreme Court place the IHEC under his control.  

A member of the Kurdistan Blocs Coalition (KBC), Fatih Daraghayee, agreed with the IHEC’s view that the allegations are politically motivated. The rejection of the measure may also have been provoked by politics too, as many politicians fear Maliki’s increasing concentration of power. The Sadrist bloc, which helped Maliki retain the premiership last year, said a no-confidence vote would have deprived Iraqis of upcoming provincial elections and been a step towards a new dictatorship, backed by the US.