Clarifications regarding the Parliament sitting for the renewal of the Election Commission’s mandate
Background to the issue
Renewing the mandate of the Independent High Election and Referendum Commission of the Kurdistan Region and amending the Election Law were among the main priorities for the fifth term of the Kurdistan Parliament. Our efforts were focused on finding common ground among all the parties while allowing considerable time for reflection, and preventing party political zero-sum thinking and actions from usurping dialogue and mutual understanding.
To create the political environment conducive to addressing these national issues in line with the required legal, regulatory and parliamentary measures, from November 3rd, 2021, a year before the end of Parliament’s fifth term, the parliamentary blocs’ discussions and meetings on amending the Election Law and renewing the Election Commission’s mandate began. Before this date, the Commission itself had asked Parliament’s Presidency, in three separate letters (No. 76 of August 5th 2019, No. 62 of August 4th 2021, and No. 13 of March 3, 2022), to determine the future of the Council of Commissioners, as the Council’s legal term expired in December 2019 and two commissioner positions had become vacant.
After several attempts and meetings, unfortunately the blocs did not reach a mutual understanding. The negotiations took a long time, making it difficult to hold elections on time. Finally, to prevent a legal and institutional vacuum, the Law on the Extension of the Fifth Term of Parliament, Law No. 12 of 2022, was passed by a majority of MPs, extending the term until December 31st, 2023. The legal justification for passing the law was to take all legal and preparatory steps needed to hold the elections for the sixth term of the Kurdistan Parliament. This is clearly stated in the reasons for the passage of the law.
While multilateral efforts to lay the groundwork for holding elections continued, parallel efforts to put up more barriers and to find one excuse after another for delaying elections, also continued.
When renewing the mandate of the Council of Election Commissioners was added as an item to the agenda of ordinary sitting No. 4 of May 22nd, 2023, in line with the proper principles and procedures, it was passed by the vote of the majority of MPs, as Decision No. 10 of 2023. The mandate of the Council of Commissioners was thus renewed. This was followed by the complementary measures to implement the decision. It was published in the official gazette ‘Waqaayi Kurdistan’ issue No. 305 on May 23rd, the two new commissioners were sworn in by the Judicial Council on May 28th and took office in accordance with Decree No. 1603 dated May 28th. Now that the mandate of the Council of Commissioners has been renewed through legal and procedurally valid measures, a major obstacle to holding the elections has been lifted.
To clarify the truth of this important national issue, I deem it necessary to present the facts and evidence to the public. There have been some topics, details and plans to disrupt the sitting and this effort, which I will leave for another time.
Attempts to remove obstacles to an extraordinary sitting and the opening of the spring season
To lay the political groundwork needed for the electoral process and achieve a rapprochement between different political views on the election issues, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Political Bureau, after their meeting of 18th January 2023, in a statement announced that they accepted four electoral constituencies, and using Iraq’s biometric voter registration records and the Iraqi Ministry of Commerce and Planning’s population data. With this initiative, the differences of opinion on amendments to the Election Law were reduced by 95%. Regarding the seats of the component communities, the KDP’s official position was that the communities themselves should agree on a formula together with UNAMI.
After the KDP’s positive initiative and goodwill, we in the Kurdistan Parliament called for a meeting of Parliament’s Presidency Board and the heads of the parliamentary blocs of the ruling government coalition of the ninth KRG cabinet. The meeting was held on February 19th, 2023 in the office of the Speaker of Parliament, and I asked that we hold an extraordinary Parliament sitting before March 1st, the opening of the spring season, on two issues:
1. The first reading of all the bills on amendments to the Election Law that were submitted earlier, i.e. the legislative proposals by the PUK, Gorran, Islamic Union, Islamic Group, New Generation and the Assyrian Movement.
2. Renewing the mandate of the Election Commission and for this purpose, as per the law on the commission, forming a Parliament committee to receive applications for the two commissioner vacancies.
We requested that at this extraordinary sitting we hold the first reading of those bills and fast-track them, so that at the subsequent sitting of 1st March, the opening of the spring season, they could have their second reading, and at the sitting thereafter, we could vote on the amendments as well as on renewing the mandate of the Council of Commissioners and electing commissioners to the two vacancies.
For posterity, the Speaker of Parliament was in favour of holding an extraordinary sitting and the first reading of the bills. But the head of the PUK parliamentary bloc rejected this proposal and asked for a few days to go back to Slemani and discuss it with their leadership. We told them that if the extraordinary sitting was not held now, these two issues would have to be on the agenda of the first sitting of the spring season.
A few days later, the head of the PUK parliamentary bloc and his deputy replied by asking me not to put these two issues on the agenda of the March 1st sitting, because there would be attempts to quickly hold a meeting of the two parties’ election offices so that they could compile their points of agreement for Parliament to then work on. I understood that the Speaker of Parliament did not have her party's approval to hold the extraordinary sitting or to include these two important issues in the agenda of the first sitting of the spring season, so to give them another opportunity and encourage joint coordination, we complied.
Why did Parliament’s Legislative Committee not even read the bills?
At the start of the spring season, the KDP bloc submitted a bill to amend the Election Law. Meanwhile, Parliament’s Legislative Committee announced on Sunday March 12th, 2023 that the committee would meet on March 13th to submit to Parliament’s Presidency Board the proposals for amendments to the Election Law from the PUK, KDP, Gorran, Islamic Group, Islamic Union, New Generation and the Assyrian Movement, so that they could be put on the agenda and given their first reading at the earliest sitting (it was decided to hold a sitting on Wednesday, March 15th).
The PUK MPs as well as PUK members of the Legislative Committee were not even willing for the Legislative Committee to hold a meeting about those bills. The head of the PUK bloc told his KDP counterpart that the Legislative Committee’s meeting would affect the decision to hold a Parliament sitting on March 15th. Once again, to give them another opportunity and pave the way for cooperation, the Legislative Committee didn’t hold their meeting.
Important steps taken towards holding elections
The Kurdistan Parliament formed a five-member committee to accept candidatures for the two vacancies on the Council of Commissioners. Then on March 26th, Kurdistan Region President Nechirvan Barzani issued Regional Decree No. 90 and set November 18th, 2023 as the date of the elections. Subsequently, KRG Prime Minister Masrour Barzani issued Decree No. 1472 on April 16th, 2023 which authorized the Government to make the provisions needed for the Election Commission to prepare the elections.
All this happened while the Iraqi Federal Court was hearing cases brought against Law No. 12 of 2022, the Law on the Extension of the Fifth Term of Parliament. Facing this, the Kurdistan Parliament needed to fulfill its legal and historic duty, redouble its efforts and prepare for the possible outcomes and decisions of the Federal Court. Unfortunately, the Kurdistan Parliament was prevented from sitting.
We repeatedly requested that Parliament hold the first reading of the bills on amendments to the Election Law, hold a sitting for the bill’s second reading, and at another sitting put the amendments to voting, as well as voting on renewing the Election Commission’s mandate. Unfortunately neither the Speaker nor the PUK bloc were given the final go-ahead by their party, so the Parliament sitting could not be held.
This is while, both previously as well as during our visit to Slemani on January 28th, 2023 and our meeting with the PUK delegation, several times we asked our PUK friends to allow the Speaker and the PUK bloc to agree to a sitting for the first reading of the proposals on amendments to the Election Law, which was their own legislative proposal, and to renew the Election Commission’s mandate with the commission’s current make-up, to which all the parties had agreed, Unfortunately, we did not see any progress from our meetings.
After the Iraqi Federal Court postponed the hearing on Law No. 12 of 2022 to May 3rd, 2023, we repeatedly asked to take advantage of the opportunity that this presented and at least hold the first reading and renew the Election Commission’s mandate and prove to the people of Kurdistan, the international community and the Federal Court that the extension of Parliament’s fifth term is needed to carry out the legal procedures for holding the next Parliament elections. Unfortunately, we did not receive any positive response from the PUK, neither inside nor outside the Parliament.
Failure to take advantage of opportunities, initiatives and promises
In these circumstances, the PUK’s and KDP’s respective election offices continued their meetings and agreed on many points. We asked that the points of agreement form the basis for the Election Law amendments and that Parliament work on them, but again the PUK bloc in Parliament was not allowed to act.
Following President Masoud Barzani’s initiative at the opening ceremony of the Barzani National Memorial on May 11th, 2023, a KDP Political Bureau delegation went to Slemani again on Wednesday, May 17th. At the beginning of the two political bureaux meeting, the PUK’s President Mr. Bafel Talabani welcomed the participants and expressed his readiness to be contacted if any issues arose. Both delegations are witness to my request to the PUK which I made three times at that meeting, to allow the Speaker Dr. Rewaz Faiq and the PUK bloc to hold a Parliament sitting to renew the Election Commission’s mandate and hold the first reading of bills on amendments to the Election Law. We were ready to provide any legal and political guarantees for their security. Let us first renew the Commission’s mandate and set a condition that the Commission will not take any steps until the Election Law is amended, we said. We told them that even if the Commission’s mandate is renewed, the KDP does not have a majority of commissioners and can’t act without the others.
Finally, we agreed that a delegation comprising the PUK’s election office and PUK MPs would meet in Parliament together with the Speaker Dr. Rewaz Faiq and me, to achieve a rapprochement and bring the points of agreement to the next meeting of the two parties’ political bureaux.
The day of our meeting in Slemani, after lunch I asked Mr. Khasraw Gul Mohammed, a member of the PUK delegation, to talk to Mr. Bafel Talabani, as it was uncertain how the Federal Court would rule on the cases against Parliament’s extension. We needed to prepare ourselves by renewing the Election Commission’s mandate ahead of the court ruling. After our return to Erbil, Mr. Bafel Talabani called and asked me to explain more about the issue we had discussed with Dr. Khasraw. I explained the issues and asked him to use this opportunity and the time available and to take advantage of President Masoud Barzani’s initiative. I told him that at the meeting in Parliament the next day, Friday, May 19th, if the PUK bloc were instructed to agree, the Election Commission’s mandate could be renewed within a week and we could hold the first reading of the bills submitted on amending the Election Law. He said, "Leave it with me!"
However, there was no change in the PUK delegation’s position at Friday's meeting in Parliament. I wrote down three questions and handed them to Speaker Dr. Rewaz Faiq, and asked her to discuss them with her party’s leadership in Slemani. The questions were:
- Will we be united on the Federal Court’s decision?
- Will you allow us to renew the Election Commission’s mandate?
- What legal and political guarantees do you want for renewing the Election Commission’s mandate?
On Saturday May 20th 2023, the PUK held several administrative meetings. Dr. Rewaz participated in one of them by video conference, but unfortunately no answers were obtained to my questions and nothing new came up.
On Sunday, May 21st, 2023, a PUK Political Bureau delegation arrived in Pirmam (Erbil) and met with a delegation of their KDP counterparts. In front of both delegations, I once again pleaded with the PUK three times to allow the Parliament Speaker to put on the sitting agenda the Election Commission and the PUK bloc to be cooperative. Even Mr. Mahmoud Mohammed, the head of the KDP delegation, asked them to put the renewal of the Election Commission’s mandate, the appointment of their own two ministers, and our party’s parliamentary changes on the next day’s sitting agenda, but unfortunately they did not agree to any of these proposals.
At that meeting, we even told them that to resolve the issue of the component communities’ parliamentary seats, the PUK and the communities’ representatives could meet with UNAMI without the KDP, and find a solution. We told them that the KDP will support and approve any agreement reached at such a meeting, but once again there was no enthusiasm for this proposal. All this happened while the agenda for the fourth ordinary sitting of Parliament on 22nd May was announced.
What else could we expect?
There was no follow-up to our successive proposals. Our pleas were to no avail. The promises were not fulfilled, we did not know what to expect nor how long we should continue waiting. Therefore, we had to remove a major obstacle to the election process and stop squandering the time left. The Parliament committee formed to receive candidatures for the two vacant commissioner positions had completed all its work and submitted a memorandum to Parliament’s Presidency.
Therefore, the KDP bloc, based on the clear provisions of the fourth paragraph of Article 48 of Parliament’s Internal Rules of Procedure, 24 hours before the sitting of May 22nd, submitted a request to add an item to the agenda on renewing the Election Commission’s mandate and filling the two commissioner vacancies. This legal measure is an inalienable legal right of any head of a bloc, representative of a component community or ten members of Parliament. The rules only set a 24-hour limit for submitting the request to add an item to the announced agenda. When the request is submitted within this legal period, according to the provisions of Article 16, paragraph 1 and Article 47, paragraph 1 of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, Parliament’s Presidency Board have a legal responsibility to add the item and announce the amended agenda.
The same day, the Secretary of Parliament and I asked the Speaker of Parliament to fulfill her legal responsibility and add the item to the agenda. She refused to sign the amended agenda, saying, "I am not for it and I will not be for it. I will implement the first and second points tomorrow and I will not be there for the commission!”
We told the Speaker that time had run out, that everyone had agreed to renew the Election Commission’s mandate with its current make-up, and that the committee for the vacant positions had done its job. Therefore, please let us settle this issue and hold another meeting on Tuesday for the first reading of the bills pertaining to amendments to the Election Law and fast-track them, but it seemed that her party had said nothing to her. She did not sign the amended agenda and in line with Parliament’s Internal Rules of Procedure, the agenda was signed by the Deputy Speaker and the Secretary of Parliament and the renewal of the Election Commission’s mandate was added to the agenda.
On the evening of Sunday, May 21st, Mr. Imad Ahmad, the head of the PUK delegation, called and asked us to postpone the next day’s Parliament sitting. I told him, “We agree and tell Dr. Rewaz to announce a sitting for Tuesday or Wednesday for which the agenda should be to renew the Election Commission’s mandate, the first reading of the amendment to the Election Law, the appointment of new ministers, and our changes in Parliament.”
On Monday, May 22nd, at 8:51 am, I sent a voice message to the Speaker of Parliament asking her to postpone that day’s sitting, on condition that she announce a sitting for the next day (Tuesday, May 23rd) with the agenda that I had discussed with Mr. Imad Ahmad. At the same time, the head of the KDP parliamentary bloc sent a voice message to his PUK counterpart with the same request. Unfortunately, neither the Speaker of Parliament nor the head of the PUK bloc responded positively to this proposal.
When we went to the sitting, before it began, I asked the Speaker of Parliament again if there was any positive answer to our proposal. Her reply was “No!”
When the sitting began, the Speaker abused her authority and misinterpreted the provisions of the Internal Rules of Procedure to announce its adjournment. Despite the Speaker of Parliament not having the authority to adjourn an announced sitting when the legal quorum is present, before the sitting’s agenda is implemented. Instead, if an adjournment is necessary during a sitting, according to the second paragraph of Article 48, it is Parliament’s Presidency Board that has the authority to adjourn it, with the consent of the Parliament majority. As such, the Speaker voluntarily left a legal and procedural sitting, and under the first paragraph of Article 19, the duty of conducting the sitting falls to the Deputy Speaker. Especially since the majority of the Presidency and the majority of Parliament voted in favor of continuing the sitting.
Therefore, we fulfilled our legal and procedural duty and conducted the sitting. Despite constant attempts by PUK MPs to stop the sitting, under the first paragraph of Article 48 of the Procedural Rules, the majority of MPs voted in favor of bringing to the top of the agenda the item on renewing the Election Commission. With 58 votes in favor (45 KDP, two Gorran, one Sardam (Social Democrats), and 10 MPs representing the component communities), the article was approved and under Decision No. 10 of 2023, the mandate of the Council of Commissioners of the Election Commission was renewed and two new commissioners were elected.
Because the Speaker of Parliament had voluntarily left the sitting chamber and the Parliament building, she was considered absent. Therefore, under the first paragraph of Article 19 of the Rules of Procedure, all her powers shall be exercised by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament. This is in accordance with the rules and does not require any delegation. Because of the nature of the decision and the importance of its content, the decision was signed by the Deputy Speaker of Parliament and sent to the relevant parties for its implementation.
Finally, the decision was published in the official gazette "Waqaayi Kurdistan" issue No. 305 on May 23rd, and the two new commissioners were sworn in by the Judicial Council on May 28th.
As well as following all the legal and procedurally valid measures, what has been done is the implementation of a multilateral political agreement between the KDP, PUK, Gorran, Islamic Group, and the Islamic Union that was held on March 11th, 2023 at the PUK Political Bureau headquarters, to renew the Election Commission’s mandate with its current make-up and to fill the two commissioner vacancies.
The renewal of the Election Commission’s mandate has not been a point of disagreement between the parties. Otherwise, the KDP would have previously demanded that the Election Commission should be restructured to reflect the share of seats that the KDP won in the 2018 Kurdistan Parliament elections and the 2021 Iraqi elections, which it merits. Because while the KDP has three out of nine commissioners in its current composition, it should have four commissioners based on the two most recent elections. However, to reduce the obstacles to holding elections, create a conducive environment and reach a national agreement, we gave up this right.
So the question remains, if the renewal of the Election Commission’s mandate was not a controversial issue, why were there attempts to put up barriers to it? Why were there concerted efforts to disrupt and stop the sitting at which the commission’s mandate was renewed?
We stress that elections are the primary tool of democracy and of the transfer of power and are a fundamental right of the people and citizens of Kurdistan. They are not a party’s or private right to be blocked or to be used as a negotiating tactic. Therefore, we call on the Parliament to fast-track a sitting for the eighth amendment to the Election Law, Law No. 1 of 1992, on the basis of using four constituencies, biometric voter registration records, and the population data of the Iraqi Ministries of Commerce and Planning. So that we hold the elections for the sixth term of the Kurdistan Parliament on the date set, November 18th, 2023.
Now that the mandate of the Council of Commissioners has been renewed through legal and procedurally valid measures, any obstacles to their work from any side are politically motivated and are aimed at delaying or preventing holding the elections for the sixth term of Parliament.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Kurdistan 24.