The Iraq Report: Constitutional and health crises follow elections
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As is the norm following any Iraqi election, a protracted period of horse-trading has kicked off since the vote on 12 May, with clear battle lines drawn between two major opposing camps. In similarly usual fashion, Iran has jumped into the fray, whipping its chosen camp into shape and trying to attract a constellation of smaller parties to join their bloc to dominate Iraq’s next parliament. However, disputes have arisen regarding allege voter fraud, causing fears of a constitutional crisis and even warnings of civil war.
Political violence notwithstanding, Iraq is also suffering from a crippling health crisis that threatens to prove the many election boycotters right. Cancer patients are not receiving necessary medication due to rampant corruption, which has led to an unnecessary and tragic loss of life. When Iraqis decided to boycott elections in a popular grassroots campaign, they alleged that politicians only cared about getting into power in order to further their own personal interests, without actually caring for the common Iraqi. With news stories about public health scandals continuing to be reported, it is likely that the political system will continue to suffer chronically from a crisis of confidence.
Fraud, violence continue to mar election results
A constitutional crisis is looming as several political parties cry foul at alleged voter fraud, and the outgoing Iraqi parliament suggested it intends to pass a law striking out a large number of votes cast while compelling recounts in several areas. This could lead to some of the election winners becoming losers, and the losers becoming winners, triggering fears of violent unrest.
The multi-ethnic and oil-rich northern governorate of Kirkuk is perhaps the best example of the alleged extent of voter fraud, and how it risks igniting armed confrontation between competing political parties.
Kirkuk was won by the Kurdish Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party, who had last year worked hand-in-hand with outgoing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to give up Kurdish-held positions in Kirkuk that ultimately led to the collapse of the Kurdish independence bid. Its strong showing in the national elections was seen by many local factions as a reward for the PUK turning their backs on former Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and his Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). Both the Arab and Turkmen demographics of Kirkuk have disputed the PUK’s victory, charging the Kurdish party of engaging in widespread electoral fraud and gaining votes in areas where very few Kurds actually live.
|With Iraq’s ethno-sectarian divisions largely influencing which way people vote, it is seen as highly unusual for a Kurdish separatist party to win parliamentary seats in Turkmen- or Arab-dominated districts|
The Iraqi Turkmen Front (ITF), led by Arshad Salihi, has denounced the election results, with The New Arab’s Arabic-language service reporting him as challenging the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) on Saturday to “prove its transparency by taking action against the largest case of electoral theft”. Salihi added the Commission’s failure to investigate voter irregularities would lead to “the collapse of peace in the governorate if the results stay as they are”.
Joining in the ITF’s protestations were others, including Arab parties, who alleged that the PUK must have engaged in voter fraud because they had won seats in districts such as Hawija, which is almost entirely populated by Arabs. With Iraq’s ethno-sectarian divisions largely influencing which way people vote, it is seen as highly unusual for a Kurdish separatist party to win parliamentary seats in Turkmen- or Arab-dominated districts.
Similarly, irregularities have been reported in the electronic voting system, leading Iraqi lawmakers to meet late on Monday night to pass a non-binding resolution calling on the IHEC to cancel ballots cast from overseas and within displacement and refugee camps within the country. This would lead to almost one million votes being cancelled, potentially setting the stage for this month’s losers to become winners, and the winners to become losers.
With Iraq’s history of the use of violence to achieve political aims – including the Iraqi Communist Party suffering bomb attacks over the weekend – this could portend bloody and volatile times for the war-ravaged country.
Battle lines drawn between Sadr and Maliki
A struggle for dominance in the inbound Iraqi parliament has also erupted, with election winner and Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr facing off against his long-time rival and current vice-president, Nouri al-Maliki. Both camps are busy courting smaller allies to form a large enough bloc to govern the 329-seat legislature, with Iran throwing its weight behind Maliki.
Sadr has made common cause with outgoing Prime Minister Abadi who is desperately seeking a second term in office. Together, Sadr’s Sairoun coalition and Abadi’s Nasr Alliance have just shy of 100 seats, and are therefore gathering allies from smaller blocs who managed to collect anything from a few dozen to only a handful of seats each.
Meanwhile, Maliki has predictably aligned with the Fateh Alliance, the political wing of the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces. Fateh, led by Hadi al-Amiri, came second after Sadr with 47 seats. In addition to Maliki’s 25 seats, the militant pro-Iran axis is lagging somewhat behind the Sadr-Abadi alliance, but may easily be able to claw back the difference by relying on Iran’s substantial network of influence with various parties up and down the country, including its pull with the Kurdish PUK - who won 18 seats.
|The race to form the largest parliamentary bloc could cause a political crisis as the factions vying for power contend with calls from lawmakers to recount the votes cast|
Although both Maliki and Abadi hail from the same Shia Islamist Dawa Party, they have been rivals since Maliki was forced from office in 2014 following his sectarian mismanagement of Iraq and the loss of a third of Iraqi territory to the Islamic State group. Iran had attempted to weld the Dawa Party back together again and mend fences between the two factions for two weeks, but has since given up and decided to get behind Maliki once again.
The race to form the largest parliamentary bloc could cause a political crisis as the factions vying for power contend with calls from lawmakers to recount the votes cast, despite the Supreme Court ruling on Sunday that the elections would not be nullified. With the judiciary squaring up against the outgoing legislative branch of government, and violence brewing in strategic regions such as Kirkuk, a constitutional crisis could emerge which may in turn lead to destructive armed conflict.
‘Ministry of Death’ blamed for cancer health crisis
To many Iraqis who boycotted the elections, old governments are replaced by new governments and promises are made and broken, and ultimately nothing changes for the common Iraqi trying to get by in dire economic circumstances that are regularly thrown even further off course by turbulent violence.
The New Arab reported on Friday how an old health crisis has re-emerged, causing Iraqis to feel justified in shunning the elections. An epidemic of corruption in Iraq’s health ministry has prevented cancer patients accessing vital medication, leading to repeated protests over the past week outside Baghdad’s Green Zone to demand relief from “a slow, painful death” and for the government to fulfil its duty by providing treatment.
The corruption and negligence prevalent in the health ministry has led to many of the protesters to dub the government department the “Ministry of Death”.
One of the protesters, Hasan Lazim, told The New Arab that he was diagnosed with leukaemia three years ago, but had been prevented from receiving treatment for more than half a year.
“I haven’t received the doses that I was supposed to get for about seven months, and this is because some doctors steal the medication and sell them on the black market… with the assistance of health officials,” Lazim alleged, adding that he had tried to purchase the medication on the black market but could not afford the $550 asking price.
Zaid al-Hilali, another protester, said: “The Ministry of Death hoards all the cancer medication, and then leaks it to the black market which then sells it on for astronomical prices. Cancer patients die every day because of this corruption.”
Cancer patients may find themselves forced to sell their land, homes and belongings in order to finance treatment, which often may come from the black market. The health crisis has attracted widespread outrage, and it remains to be seen if any incoming government will finally address the corruption that is behind the public service malaise that is leading to untold deaths.
The Iraq Report is a weekly feature at The New Arab.
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