In the latest twist to the political turmoil, influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has urged the judiciary to dissolve parliament by the end of this week to pave the way for new legislative elections.
But the judiciary replied that “the Supreme Judicial Council has no jurisdiction to dissolve parliament”, citing “the principle of a separation of powers”. According to the constitution, parliament can only be dissolved following a request by one-third of deputies or by the prime minister with the approval of the president.
Nearly 10 months after the October elections, Iraq still has no government nor new prime minister or new president, due to repeated disagreements between rival factions over forming a coalition. It is the longest political impasse since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that reset the political order.
Members of al-Sadr’s parliamentary bloc resigned but instead of allowing his rivals — the Coordination Framework — to form a government, al-Sadr has demanded early elections.
Nevertheless, “the Supreme Judicial Council does not have the authority to dissolve parliament,” Al Jazeera wrote, adding it cannot “interfere in the work of the legislative or executive authorities”.
As a consequence of the political impasse, all sessions of the assembly were canceled until further notice, halting efforts by the Coordination Framework to form the next government after al-Sadr’s failure.
Followers of al-Sadr stormed the parliament on July 30 and have since been holding a sit-in outside the assembly building in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
Hours later, supporters of Iran-backed groups opposed to al-Sadr rallied on the fortified Green Zone, where parliament and foreign embassies are located, insisting they should form the new government based on the October election.
On Twitter, Saleh Mohamed al-Iraqi, a close associate of al-Sadr, said it was time to show “which of the two sides has the most support” among the Iraqi people, calling on al-Sadr’s supporters to rally in Baghdad for a “million-man demonstration”.
The rivalry between the two sides reflects the deep divisions within Iraq’s Shia community. Unlike Iran-backed groups, al-Sadr wants better ties with Arab countries, particularly Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia, which is Iran’s main rival in the region. Al-Sadr has also been a harsh critic of widespread corruption in the oil-rich country destroyed by decades of US-led war, which resulted in an impoverished majority and a lack of basic services.
Changing electoral rules?
Even if the Shia rivals were to agree to hold elections, fundamental differences remain about electoral rules, Al Jazeera noted.
Al-Sadr wants to maintain the current election law, which is the one that in the October election led his party to obtain the majority of the seats in the Parliament.
The law provides for the division of Iraq into 83 electoral districts, benefiting parties with a strong grassroots base like that of al-Sadr, who grew his seat tally from 54 to 73, while the Iran-backed parties saw a decrease from 48 to 16. For this reason, on the other hand, the Coordination Framework wants the law to be amended.
However, the parliament building is closed as hundreds of al-Sadr’s followers are camped outside, preventing parliamentarians from entering. But the debilitating political gridlock has further weakened Iraq’s government and ability to provide basic services such as water and electricity. Unable to pass a budget law, Al Jazeera describes how “the government has resorted to stop-gap measures to fund urgent expenses such as food and electricity payments to neighboring countries”, while crucial investments, including in water infrastructure, have been stalled.