New Term Limits for Prime Minister

By Reidar Visser.

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.

A couple of points regarding the law on term limits for the “three presidencies” passed by the Iraqi parliament on Saturday:

  • The law limits the three presidencies (president proper, speaker of parliament and prime minister) to two terms, whether successive or not.
  • Whereas a limitation on the presidency to two terms is prescribed in the Iraqi constitution for the presidency proper, no such restriction appears with regard to the premiership. Maliki supporters is calling the law unconstitutional for this reason. It may be more correct to see the law as “extra-constitutional” (since the constitution is mute) but that does not mean the supreme court will not find problems with it.
  • Another noteworthy problem is that the law is a “proposed law” rather than a legislative project. In 2010, the Iraqi supreme court struck down another such “proposed law”, arguing that parliament had no right to initiate legislation other than making a proposal that would then have to pass through parliament. The supreme court may opt to strike down the bill simply for that reason.
  • Note that rejection of the bill is not automatic: It must be specifically challenged before the supreme court. Maliki will probably lose no time in doing so, but it should be added that at least a couple of dozens of “proposals” have indeed been passed into law apparently without such challenges over the past few years, and quite a few others are on their way. The sheer volume of this legislative action suggests the Iraqi supreme court may gradually find it harder and harder to defend what is arguably a somewhat contrived ruling.
  • It is noteworthy, too, that the law shows the Iraqi parliament can be effective when it wants. The bill was introduced, read and passed all in the single month of January.
  • The bill passed with 170 votes. That’s of course more than the magical 163 threshold that was not achieved when the sacking of Maliki was on the agenda last spring. Nonetheless, the bill is so clearly directed against Maliki personally that it should be taken to mean any other vote in parliament other than a non-confidence motion is potentially problematic to him. Maliki may hide behind supreme court activism that effectively confines the ability of parliament to legislate introduce bills or hold ministers accountable for the purpose of sacking them. But he needs to get a budget passed and handle acute tensions with the Kurdish federal government, some of which require legislative agreement. Maliki cannot survive merely on the basis of an amenable judiciary and populist gestures of an increasingly sectarian nature.
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