Efforts to form a new Iraqi government returned to square one, after the Prime Minister-designate Mohammed Allawi has withdrawn his candidacy for the post earlier this month (March 1st), citing political blocs' intransigence and pursuit of narrow interests by blocking parliament quorum needed to vote on the government. One day after Allawi announced his withdrawal, caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi threatened to resort to "voluntary absence" to further complicate the crisis, while political blocs remain unable to agree on a candidate who can fill the political vacuum and calm an angry street.
Why Allawi Failed?
It appears that forming a transitional government was something beyond the capacity of Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi. The man has failed to deal with the complexities of an ethnic-sectarian political scene or break a 16-year-old political system based on sectarian quotas. To make things worse, Allawi was also unable to win the support of the protesters and invest their movement, which entered its sixth month, in pressuring the centers of power and pushing them to make concessions commensurate with the gravity of the situation. On the contrary, his repeated allegations of being a protest movement candidate exacerbated discontent among the protesters and sent uneasy signals of his political integrity and his willingness to lie and be evasive in order to preserve his position. In addition to the above, the following reasons my help understand why the man failed in his mission:
Abdul Mahdi’s Staying in Office Sparks Legal Debate
As soon as Allawi’s candidacy came to an end earlier this month, caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi sent a message to the President of the Republic and Speaker of the Parliament that included a threat to resort to “voluntary absence” if the country's political parties could not find an alternative for him. Experts in Iraqi law agree that the term "voluntary absence" does not exist in the law, in the constitution, or even in the bylaw of the Council of Ministers, but there is divergence between the political parties regarding the position on Abdul-Mahdi remaining in power, as follows:
As a result, Iraq is in the midst of political and legal fiasco, as there is no text in the Iraqi constitution indicating how to deal with such a crisis, because Article (76) of the fifth paragraph of the constitution indicates that "the President of the Republic shall assign another candidate to form the cabinet, within fifteen days." But this matter depends on Adel Abdul Mahdi continuing to head the caretaker government, but if he abandons the position, the constitution suggests recourse to Article (81) which states that “the President of the Republic shall act as the Prime Minister, when the position is vacated for any reason whatsoever.” This means that the President of the Republic can occupy the position of Prime Minister for a period not exceeding 45 days, and that this article is considered the last resort if the President of the Republic is unable to appoint a candidate during it.
Alternatives to Abdul Mahdi
The meetings and talks the leaders of the political blocs have been holding over the past few days, under the aegis of the President of the Republic Barham Saleh, revealed progress towards a one-year transitional government, which is envisaged to have the authority to conduct early elections, pass the 2020 budget, which is still being prepared, negotiate with the protesters and respond to their immediate demands.
However, differences still exist on the level of candidates. The most prominent names put on the table include the following: The political adviser to the leader of the Sadrist movement, Ali al-Shukri, the deputy for the Al-Nasr coalition and former governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zarfi, the head of the intelligence service, Mustafa al-Kadhemi, and the governor of Basra, Asad al-Aidani, who is affiliated with the "Iraqi National Congress," and the minister of education, Qusay al-Suhail, who represents the "State of Law" coalition. In addition to these names, Iraqi politician and economist Mazen Abdul Mahdi Al-Ashiker announced that he had submitted a request to the President of the Republic to nominate him as an independent politician who meets the required conditions.
It seems that there is a push towards nominating intelligence chief Mustafa Al-Kadhemi, who is independent, not affiliated with any party or political bloc, and has good relations with most of the political forces, as well as being the only one whom the protesters have not blacklisted so far. Likewise, Al-Sadr had no objection to Al-Kadhemi's candidacy, and he was in favor of that option even before Allawi was chosen, but reservations by other Shiite political forces aborted this bid. It is noticeable that Al-Kadhemi has good relations with the “Sunni” and “Kurdish” blocs, which enable him to obtain the confidence of Parliament if he is named prime minister. On the other hand, the pro-Iranian parties in the "Al-Fatah" continue to voice reservations over the Al-Kadhemi's nomination, especially since he has sufficient information about the movements of these parties' militias, which sparked a systematic attack against him. The Hezbollah Brigades threatened to "burn the rest of Iraq’s security" if Al-Kadhemi was nominated, accusing him of helping “the American enemy to carry out the assassination of the Al-Nasr leaders.” On the other side, the "State of Law" coalition is showing enthusiasm towards naming Basra Governor Asad al-Aidani as new prime minister. This was publicly expressed by one of the coalition’s representative in the parliament, Kadhem Al-Sayyadi, saying that “the stage needs a strong prime minister who can pass through Parliament, and this is what applies to Al-Aidani.”
Noteworthy, Al-Aidani ran and won in the 2018 parliamentary elections in Iraq representing the Al-Nasr coalition led by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, before he split and joined the Iran-affiliated coalition. He even refused to be sworn in as deputy because he wanted to keep the governor of Basra job, exploiting the fact there is no text that obliges the deputy to take the constitutional oath. His name was previously proposed by the "Al-Binaa" coalition, but the president of the republic then refused to task him.
Prime Minister Designation: Future Scenarios
First Scenario: Choosing a Figure Who Commits to Partisan Agreements. This scenario assumes the failure of political parties to choose a (Shiite) figure who guarantees the interests of other political parties, in exchange for providing a cabinet lineup of figures that appear to be independent in order to mislead the public opinion. There are several reasons underpinning this scenario, most notably:
Second Scenario: The Constitutional Vacuum Continuing for a Long Time. This scenario assumes that the political blocs fail to reach an agreement on a candidate that satisfies all parties, and therefore they have no choice but to go to the constitutional option in Article (81), which requires that the President of the Republic run the government for a period of 30 days. During this period, the parties may be able to reach a consensual option between the “Shiite”, “Sunni” and “Kurdish” blocs. It is possible that the parties will not be able to form a government according to the constitutional contexts for the same reasons that undermined the Allawi government. In addition, the formation of such government is inconsistent with the religious authority's and the protesters’ demand for early elections because its completion will not be achieved at best before the end of this month. This limits the chances of holding elections before the end of 2020 due to the limited time required to submit the draft budget, as well as technical details regarding the elections. This is in addition to the possibility of security disturbances, such as the assassination of an important person or an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, going to the formation of a national accord government such as that which Iraq has been accustomed to since 2005, or the occurrence of external interference that leads to the formation of a "national salvation" government.
Third Scenario: Keeping Resigned Prime Minister in Office or Tasking him with Forming a New Government According to the Electoral Merit until Holding Parliamentary Elections. This scenario assumes that Adel Abdul Mahdi will remain in office with the creation of a legal adjustment to pass the annual budget and create the atmosphere for early elections. This assumption is underpinned by several considerations, the most important of which are:
However, this option could run counter to the desire of the religious authority, which recommended that the parliament should reconsider its options in a veiled reference to the formation of a new government. This is in addition to the demonstrators who previously confirmed that they will escalate the situation if the first suspect in their killing is kept in office. It is also possible that the leader of the Sadrist movement, Muqtada al-Sadr, might try to restore his popular influence, which has been severely eroded since he aligned with Tehran after the killing of Qassem Soleimani, and his attempt to impose the nomination of Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi on the demonstrators with violence, which opens the door for the country to slide into civil war.
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