World / Middle East

Iraq election chiefs quit amid violence

By Agence France-Press in Baghdad (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-27 08:52

The board of Iraq's electoral commission resigned en masse on Tuesday in protest at political and judicial "interference", one month before a scheduled general election.

The sudden decision comes with doubts already swirling over whether the Independent High Electoral Commission could organize polling nationwide on April 30 amid ongoing violence and with anti-government fighters in control of a city on Baghdad's doorstep.

Much is at stake in the election, as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki seeks a third term with his security credentials thrown into question by a surge in violence to levels not seen since 2008.

On Tuesday, 37 people were killed nationwide, including eight in a gun attack on an army patrol and 15 in car bombings in and around the capital.

The nine-member Independent High Electoral Commission board handed in its resignation in protest at what it said were conflicting rulings from parliament and the judiciary on the barring of would-be candidates for the election.

"The commission is today caught between two authorities - the legislative and the judicial - and the two have issued contradictory decisions," IHEC spokesman Safa al-Mussawi said.

"We are stuck in the middle, so we have decided to resign."

An aide to IHEC chairman Sarbat Rashid said he backed the decision. An IHEC board member, who did not want to be identified, said the same.

"They are very frustrated with this judicial panel for the elections ... excluding candidates," a diplomatic source said on condition of anonymity.

"They are very unhappy with judicial interference, with political interference."

The resignations still have to be approved by parliament, the source said.

Several candidates have been barred in recent weeks on the grounds of alleged ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

But a greater source of frustration for the IHEC board has been the exclusion of scores of hopefuls on the basis of what critics say is a vague provision in Iraq's electoral law that requires parliamentary hopefuls to be "of good reputation".

Those barred, who include former finance minister Rafa al-Essawi, a Maliki opponent, have no obvious avenue of appeal against the judicial panel's decision.

Meanwhile, parliament has reportedly ruled that the IHEC must not bar any candidates unless they have criminal convictions, a decision the IHEC spokesman said was at odds with that of the judicial panel.

Impact on elections

It was not immediately clear what impact the resignation of the IHEC board would have on next month's election, which all major parties are agreed must take place on schedule.

One analyst said the resignations themselves were unlikely to disrupt the timetable.

"The election will go ahead on time, whatever the situation, because there is no way parliament will approve these resignations," said Ihsan al-Shammari, a politics professor at Baghdad University.

"The resignations are a message to the two authorities ... not to interfere in their work," he said.

The looming vote has been a factor in the rising bloodshed in recent months, analysts and diplomats say.

Maliki and other Shiite political leaders have been determined to be seen as taking a hard line against militants, rather than reaching out to the Sunni Arab minority in a bid to undercut long-term support for militancy.

But despite widely trumpeted operations against insurgents, bloodletting has continued, with more than 400 people killed so far this month, and upward of 2,100 this year, according to an AFP tally.

The April 30 poll is also seen as opportunity to break years of political deadlock between Maliki and his opponents, which has resulted in little significant legislation being passed.

Iraq election chiefs quit amid violence

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