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Iraqi Parliament Again Fails To Vote On Key Election Law

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's party has pushed for passage of the law.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's party has pushed for passage of the law.

(RFE/RL) -- For the second time in a week, a parliamentary vote on Iraq's new election law has been put off. No date has been set for a new attempt, and time is fast ebbing away as the crucial January 16 national elections loom.

The amended election law is meant to provide a more transparent, responsive, and democratic voting system, as Iraq steers toward a future in which U.S. troops will not be present to support the government.

Iraqi election officials say they need the election law passed at least three months ahead of the election date, to give them time to plan logistics. That makes it imperative for the amendment to be passed now.

But in parliament on October 20, Islamic Al-Da'wah Party member Sami al-Askari accused some parties of "pretending" to support the new election law, while hindering its passage. Da'wah is Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's party.

He said they preferred to spend the day in the cafeteria or at home, rather than to attend to provide the parliamentary session with a quorum. He urged the Iraqi people to recognize their lack of patriotism.

Opening The Lists

At the heart of the draft election law is a change that would allow voters to choose individual candidates for individual constituencies, rather than just voting for parties on a "closed" list.

A closed list means the political parties simply share out the seats they have won to picked party members, without any say by the public on whether they find the appointees acceptable.

An "open" list featuring individual representatives of a party on the other hand provides the public with a significantly higher level of choice.

But some Iraqi political entities have done well out of the status quo, Joost Hiltermann, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said after the regional elections in August.

He says that that did well in the previous elections in 2005 "have no interest in changing the electoral law and system. They would want to maintain a closed list, which brought them victory last time."

If the new law is not passed, by default the election would have to be held under the old rules. Parties favoring the old election law include the Shi'ite Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Kurdish parties.

By contrast, Maliki's allies grouped under the State of Law coalition did well under the "open" system in last January's provincial elections, capturing nine of the 10 Shi'ite-majority provinces.

The Kurds, who have their own semi-autonomous region in the north, are at the center of another dispute affecting the election law.

This concerns the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds are demanding should be incorporated into their region on the grounds that it is a historically Kurdish city and its demographics were changed by Saddam Hussein's "Arabization" policies.

But the Arab and Turkoman populations strongly oppose this, making it impossible to finalize arrangements for the election.

with agency reports