Iraq MPs to vote electoral law: panel chief
35 mins ago
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Iraqi MPs are to vote on Saturday on a controversial electoral bill after a compromise text was agreed, a senior lawmaker said, raising hope that a poll can go ahead as planned in January.
"We reached a deal (Thursday) on the electoral law in the committee on laws, and deputies will vote on Saturday," panel chairman Baha al-Araji told AFP on Thursday.
Saturday is the deadline for a law to be passed if the general election is to take place in January.
However, Kurdish deputy Khaled Chwani was more cautious, saying there had only been a tentative deal and that the sticking point was still oil-rich Kirkuk province and how it will be treated in the January poll.
"There were four proposals (on Kirkuk) today and we managed to boil them down to a single text," Chwani said. "We will study them and give our answer on Saturday."
Another Kurdish MP, Mahmud Othman, said "up until now nothing has been agreed, but Saturday afternoon we hope to reach a deal and include it on the agenda."
Neither Araji nor Othman gave any details on the text of the bill produced in the committee.
MPs have been deadlocked over the status of Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed province along the border with autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.
Kirkuk's majority Kurds have long demanded incorporation into the autonomous region, arousing fierce opposition from the province's Arabs and Turkmen.
While Kurds favour using current voter registration lists and keeping Kirkuk as one electoral constituency, Arabs and Turkmen want 2004 or 2005 records to be used, or for Kirkuk to be split into two constituencies.
The late dictator Saddam Hussein pursued a policy of Arabisation in Kirkuk, mainly by driving Kurds out. But since his fall in 2003, Kurds have returned in large numbers over the past six years.
The proposed amendments would also address whether parties list candidates' names on ballot papers or use the current system under which voters see only party names.
Supporters of the closed system argue that their system pushes party programmes of action to the fore.
Critics say sitting MPs who support the closed list are in fact concerned that they could lose their seats.
A closed list was used in national elections in January 2005, the first to take place after Saddam's overthrow in the US-led invasion of March 2003. In contrast, a provincial poll last January adopted an open system.
On Tuesday, the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission said parliament must adopt the law this week if there is to be enough time for preparations for the election to take place as planned on January 16.
"The electoral commission held talks with the United Nations on Tuesday to discuss the timetable," IHEC chief Faraj al-Haidari said.
"We must receive the law in the next two days, otherwise we will be unable to hold the election on the scheduled date of January 16," he said.
"There is material relating to the election, and international companies need time to print it. Fifteen thousand polling stations have to be made ready for the election, as do 50,000 personnel."
The electoral law is supposed to be in place 90 days before voting takes place.
"The next two days are crucial," Haidari said. "If the new electoral law is not adopted or if the amendments to the old law are not voted through, that means it will be impossible to hold the election on January 16."
The issue has remained deadlocked despite intense lobbying from the United Nations and the United States, as well as pressure from Iraqi religious leaders and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.