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Iraqi Vice President Vetoes Election Law Over Expatriate Seats

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi said he hopes the law can be amended quickly so the elections can be held in January as planned.
(RFE/RL) -- Iraq's January legislative poll is in doubt after the country's Sunni Arab vice president vetoed a recently passed election law.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi said more seats in the future parliament should be allocated for representatives of the estimated 1.5 million Iraqis living abroad.

Many Iraqis abroad are part of Iraq's once-dominant Sunni Arab community who fled after Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003 unleashed a sectarian war.

Hashimi said today he is sending the country's election law back to parliament in hopes that the issue can be resolved rapidly.

"My objection is not to the entire law but essentially to its first article in order to be fair to Iraqis living abroad," he said.

"I do not expect an amendment will take long to pass. Perhaps in a single session the council of deputies can decide on the proposed amendment."

Hashimi also said that his intention is not to delay the planned January elections, and noted that the law does have "the three distinguishing features of adopting an open-list system, multiple constituencies, and reconsidering the number of seats to be more proportional with the population."

No Time To Lose

It's not immediately clear when parliament will take up the vice president's challenge.

A member of the parliament's Legal Committee, Kurdish lawmaker Khalid Shwani, said the committee will study Hashimi's suggested changes as soon as they receive them.

"If we received it today, then we will study the suggestions starting tomorrow and then we will put the article to a vote," Shwani said. "I can't put a specific timetable on the vote because it will depend on how long the discussions take."

Lawmakers haggled for weeks over the election legislation before finally passing it on November 8. Now, with election day planned for between January 18-23, time for additional lengthy discussion is running short.

Both Washington and Baghdad regard the January election as key to the withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops by the end of August.

The election is seen as a chance to gain a strong new mandate for the Iraqi government and to bolster the public's cooperation with government security drives against insurgents.

Under the Iraqi Constitution, the end of January is the latest time frame for holding the national poll. Any delay beyond that time would require opening a new and potentially lengthy process of amending the constitution.

Electoral Horse Trading

The vice president's objections come as some other Iraqi groups also have signaled they are not happy with the election law.

Kurdish lawmakers threatened on November 17 to boycott the poll unless a greater share of parliamentary seats was allocated for Kurdish representatives.

The president of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region said in a statement that "unless the seat-allocation formula is reconsidered in a just manner, the people of the Kurdish region will be compelled to boycott the election."

The multiple last-minute demands have sent Iraqi election officials scrambling for quick compromise solutions in an effort to keep the January poll on track.

Representatives of Iraq's Independent High Election Commission met on November 17 to address the crisis. No immediate results from the meeting emerged.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said earlier this week that he had proposed to parliament to increase the number of seats for minorities -- including Christians and expatriates -- to 15 percent of the legislature. The number of compensatory seats currently stands at 5 percent.

Under the constitution, any member of the Presidential Council, which includes the president and two vice presidents, can veto a proposed law a maximum of two times before the bill is returned to parliament for approval by a vote of at least 60 percent of members of parliament.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq contributed to this report