By Prashant Rao (AFP) – 5 hours ago
BAGHDAD — Iraqi lawmakers failed on Tuesday to reach agreement on a compromise election law amid disagreements over the disputed province of Kirkuk, despite intense lobbying from the United Nations.
The deadlock over the law has sparked concern that the polls, scheduled for January 16, will have to be delayed because electoral authorities will not have enough time to organise them.
"No agreement was reached today, and they will return to the talks on Wednesday," an MP who was involved in the discussions told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The proposed changes to the law would require parties to publish full lists of candidates on ballot papers, in contrast to the current closed list system under which voters see only party names.
According to the lawmaker, UN special envoy Ad Melkert, who was involved in the meetings, made a proposal to overcome the issues surrounding Kirkuk, an oil-rich ethnically mixed province in Iraq's north.
The UN proposal involved holding elections across the country, including Kirkuk, on the same day. Diplomats have expressed concern that elections in Kirkuk would have to be delayed because of disputes over voter records there.
The MP said the proposal envisages current voter records being used in the Kirkuk vote, but that these would then be updated after the election.
The Kurds, who form the majority of the population in Kirkuk, have long demanded that the province be incorporated in their autonomous region in the north despite the opposition of its Arab and Turkmen communities.
A UN spokesman told AFP, however, that the organisation's "message was not a proposal, it was a discussion."
"There has been a great deal of discussion that the UN has been involved in," said the spokesman, Said Arikat. "Mr. Melkert is constantly meeting with political leaders, different parliamentary leaders, and our political team meets with them, too."
The UN's proposal differs from one put forth by a senior political committee made up of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and parliament speaker Iyad al-Samarrai.
According to Abdul Hadi al-Hassani, an MP in Maliki's Dawa party, three options were advanced relating to Kirkuk: postponing elections there, using voter records from 2004, or separating the province into two electoral constituencies.
Well-respected Kurdish MP Mahmud Othman said those proposals were dismissed by parliament's Kurdish faction, telling AFP: "We reject any proposal that gives Kirkuk special status, and we also reject adopting the electoral records of 2004 and 2005."
Pressure has been placed on Iraqi MPs to reach agreement on the new law from a wide variety of sources, including US President Barack Obama, the UN and Iraqi religious leaders, as well as the prime minister.
Some parties are reportedly delaying putting the bill to a vote so they can avoid publicly backing the closed system but ensure the same result by forcing the government to fall back on existing legislation which uses closed lists.
The political deadlock threatens the poll as the electoral law is supposed to be in place 90 days before voting takes place. Constitutionally, the election must be held by January 31.
"One thing that we emphasise is the need to pass this law," Arikat said. "Holding the election on the 16th of January is critical." He added: "With every day that passes without passing this election law, without holding this election on time, the political calendar will be set back," Arikat said.
While supporters of the closed system argue that their system pushes parties' programmes of action to the fore, critics say that sitting MPs who support the closed list are in fact concerned that they could lose their seats.