A video of Mahmoud al-Hassan, an Iraqi member of parliament (MP) from the State of Law Coalition, talking to a group of farmers in the province of Diwaniyah has circulated in Iraqi media.
In the video, he is holding a stack of real estate title deeds and telling the farmers that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has sent him to give them plots of land in exchange for their votes in favor of his coalition in the elections. The video has triggered much controversy in Iraq, as its content constitutes several violations of the law.
Hassan is an MP and does not hold any executive position that allows him to distribute title deeds. Moreover, his actions are seen as political extortion, aimed at obtaining votes by using the state's resources.
The Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) fined Hassan 50 million Iraqi dinars ($43,000) for violating the rules for electoral campaigns. Yet, some felt that this punishment was not sufficient and is not commensurate with the seriousness of the offense he committed.
They believe that the IHEC is being lenient with the prime minister's allies. What is interesting is that Hassan had been a judge in one of the most critical Iraqi courts — the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal — which was supposed to make him more vigilant about observing laws.
This incident is further indication of the growing tendency among groups that have strong leverage in the executive branch to use the state's resources and capabilities to achieve political advantage over their opponents. The State of Law Coalition has become increasingly dominant over many of the state's departments, which facilitated the use of political patronage in gaining followers and votes in a similar way to that by the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Iraqi Kurdistan.