April 7, 2008

When will the provincial powers law take effect?
The law will not take effect until after the holding of provincial elections, which are tentatively scheduled for October 1, 2008.

What is required to hold provincial elections?
1. Passage of a Provincial Elections Law: According to the provincial powers law, election governance legislation needs to be passed within 90 days after the passage of the law (this means June at the latest). This law will govern the elections themselves by defining residency and voter eligibility requirements, a difficult task given the millions of displaced Iraqis.

2. Appointing of provincial election commissions: On February 14, the Council of Representatives (COR), Iraq’s parliament, announced it would seek UN support in creating election commissions, due to the relative absence of independent officials to oversee the election process. Provincial commissioners are responsible for selecting polling places, providing and collecting ballots and transferring them to counting stations. Eight provinces, which constitute 80 percent of Iraq’s population, have not appointed local commissions. On April 3, the United Nations Assistance Missions in Iraq (UNAMI) delivered its choices for commissioners of the eight provinces to the COR. The COR has until April 12 to choose five of the UN-selected candidates to present to the Iraqi High Electoral Commission (IHEC). If a decision is not made by then, the UNAMI said it would send its own recommendations to the IHEC.

What powers will the new provincial governments have?
Some analysts see the recent provincial powers law as granting the national government greater power over the provinces. Provinces are not allowed to contradict laws issued in Baghdad, while the COR will be able to remove provincial governors and dissolve provincial councils. The provincial powers law allows the executive branch to remove other senior provincial officials. Provinces will not generate their own revenue; money will continue to flow from Baghdad. Nevertheless, the provincial powers law does give provincial governments authority over local security forces and public facilities, input into the appointment of provincial senior ministry officials and allows them to dismiss such officials by an absolute majority vote in the provincial council.

Were there obstacles in creating the provincial powers law?
Yes. The COR approved the law on February 13, but Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi of the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq party (ISCI), and a member of the presidential council delayed its final approval. The presidential council consists of the Iraqi president and two vice presidents, and must unanimously agree on legislation before it becomes law. Abdul Mahdi objected to multiple articles of the provincial powers law, including one that gave parliament the right to remove governors. Abdul Mahdi claimed that it was unconstitutional and that authority should instead lie with the respective provincial councils. There are suspicions that Abdul Mahdi and ISCI vetoed the legislation as a means to undermine the provincial elections. Some analysts contend that ISCI’s popularity has declined since 2005, and the party will not perform well in the coming elections, particularly compared to the Sadrists. On March 19, just two days after a visit by U.S. Vice President Cheney, Abdul Mahdi dropped his objection. Continuing discussion between ISCI, Sadrists and Fadilla, to consider amendments to the law, also played a role in Abdul Madhi’s decision.

Who will be contesting elections?
The major Iraqi political parties have indicated that they are likely to contest the forthcoming elections. In addition, the Sunni parties and Sadrists that boycotted the provincial elections in 2005 will contest the next round of elections. Finally, new political parties that did not exist in 2005 will take part in the electoral process, likely including a Sahwa-based party in Anbar that could challenge the more established Sunni parties.

How does the Iraqi Constitution address the division of powers between local and federal governments?
The constitution sets out three levels of government; national, regional and provincial. Whereas the federal-regional relationship is constitutionally settled, the federal-provincial relationship is unclear. For example, Article 115 provides provinces with broad powers and allows provincial legislation to supersede national legislation in all but a dozen or so matters. This contrasts with Article 122, which treats provinces as administrative units of the central government with little or no legislative power. In July 2007, the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court (FSC) issued a ruling that the COR has the power to legislate only national laws and not laws on local affairs.

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