In a deeply divided country whose main parties rely on identity politics to renew their legitimacy, electoral seasons usually constitute an opportunity for ethnic and sectarian mobilization. Political parties and leaders, which present themselves as protectors of their “communities,” increasingly tend to adopt inflexible policies and exaggerate in their confrontational stances.
This is what is happening today in the confrontation between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi (pictured), and between Maliki and Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani.
The matter is not restricted to the mobilization of electoral bases, but also includes attempts to set the stage for a post-election negotiation phase. The current strictness in policies stems from a feeling that there is no political value in showing flexibility and giving up pressure cards at this stage. The elections in Iraq have become a prelude for laborious negotiations aiming at distributing main positions and ranks. Each party is getting ready for this stage by gathering pressure cards against its enemies.
Nevertheless, it seems that the current escalation might go beyond electoral calculations and threaten the presence of the political system, which was established in Iraq as per the 2005 Constitution. In his weekly address on March 5, Maliki declared that he considers the parliament “finished” and lacking legitimacy. He blamed Nujaifi for “the legal and constitutional violations” that turned the parliament into an institution that “disrupts the government’s work.”
Maliki went as far as calling on MPs to boycott the parliamentary sessions as long as Nujaifi insists on not putting the budget to a vote. In the first threat of its kind, Maliki declared that he would make disbursements from the budget without waiting for the approval of the parliament. Maliki added that he had already challenged the parliament’s work before the federal court.