The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
On paper it looks all fine. A record of Iraq’s parliamentary attendance figures is regularly published, along with the names of deputies who are absent from parliamentary sessions. A separate non-governmental organisation keeps track of those numbers and pegs the attendance figure to entries for individual deputies, making it possible to check the attendance of any of the 325 deputies in parliament. The parliamentary bylaws say the parliamentary presidency can issue a written warning to deputies that are absent 5 times in a row or 10 times during the course of the legislative year.
There is only one problem: The numbers are false. A systematic correlation of parliamentary records and attendance information linked to individuals shows that only a fraction of those absent are actually accounted for in the official record. Here is a quick rundown of gross attendance figures and the numbers of absentees actually identified by name for the past months:
A possible explanation for the huge discrepancies can be found in the bylaws, where a distinction is made between “legitimate” absence (apparently for health reasons or if a deputy is on business representing the parliament elsewhere) and other forms of absences. Quite possibly, the absentees identified by name are the few who had such legitimate absences.
The problem, of course, has to do with all the others, non-legitimate – and non-registered – absentees. Just look at the huge numbers! The whole oversight system of checks and balances loses its meaning unless those names get published too. Until they are in the public domain, there is no real transparency in the Iraqi parliament – and it is also more difficult to analyse the political dynamics behind votes in parliament, since voting is usually done anonymously.
In short, here is yet another reason why Iraq cannot be considered a model democracy for the emerging “new Middle East”.