Angry clashes force Iraqi PM to cancel Cabinet vote

Asaad al-Eidani, center, Basra governor getting out of his armored car and confronting a demonstrator in front of the provincial council building during a demonstration demanding better public services and jobs in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (AP)
Updated 05 December 2018
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Angry clashes force Iraqi PM to cancel Cabinet vote

  • Faisal Fannar Al-Jarba, a former commander of Saddam Hussein’s special squadron, was also rejected by Al-Amiri’s Sunni allies

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s Parliament descended into chaos on Tuesday as MPs clashed angrily over a planned vote on the remainder of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s Cabinet.
MPs boycotting the vote banged tables and shouted “illegitimate” in vocal opposition to Abdul Mahdi’s proposed candidates.
The boycott — mostly by a group led by populist cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr and his allies — left the country’s Parliament and two key ministries paralyzed amid fears of rising instability in Baghdad and the country’s southern provinces, lawmakers told Arab News.
Angry clashes among MPs forced Abdul Mahdi to leave the parliament building together with his eight candidates and cancel voting on completion of his Cabinet.
Candidates of the ministries of interior and defense were at the core of the dispute that erupted several weeks ago between the two biggest Shiite-led parliamentary blocs — Reform, led by Al-Sadr, and the Iranian-backed alliance Al-Binna’a led by Hadi Al-Amiri, head of the Badr Organization.
Falih Al-Fayadh, a former national security adviser and chairman of the Popular Mobilization Units nominated by Al-Binna’a to occupy the Interior Ministry, was rejected by Al-Sadr and his allies for being “non-independent.”
Al-Fayadh is viewed by most political blocs as “the candidate of Iran,” negotiators for both alliances told Arab News.
Faisal Fannar Al-Jarba, a former commander of Saddam Hussein’s special squadron, was also rejected by Al-Amiri’s Sunni allies.
The two candidates had been selected by Abdul Mahdi along with six others, some of whom have also been rejected by other voting blocs.
“We clearly told Abdul Mahdi to change his candidates for interior and defense, but he insisted on bringing them again to the Parliament,” a key Reform negotiator told Arab News.
“Today (Tuesday), we just repeated our message and told him again and again there is no way to vote for Al-Fayadh or Al-Jarba. He has to change them if he wants to complete his Cabinet, otherwise we will keep rejecting them, or maybe go to the street to do what we have to do,” he said.
Parliament voted on 14 ministers out of 22 of Abdul Mahdi’s government early last month, but postponed the vote on the remaining eight ministries because of a lack of agreement over suitable candidates.
The interior, defense, education, higher education, culture, justice, migration and planning ministries have been vacant since then.
The parliamentary session on Tuesday was delayed several times as Abdul Mahdi tried to convince leaders of the Reform bloc and their allies to vote for at least some of the candidates.
“The chaos inside Parliament today prevented the vote on the completion of the Cabinet,” Abdul Mahdi told reporters. “We are looking forward to (reaching) a parliamentary agreement to vote on the current list of candidates or any other list.”
Abdul Mahdi denied the latest voting delay would create an administrative vacuum. “These (the vacant) ministries are running by proxy,” he said.


Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt begins vote on extending El-Sisi’s rule

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Voting began on Saturday in Egypt in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments that would extend President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi's rule.
El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital, state television showed.  

Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms. Critics say they fear that the changes will further limit the space for dissent. 

An amendment to Article 140 of the constitution extends the presidential term to six years from four. An outright bar on any president serving more than two terms will change to a bar on serving more than two consecutive terms. An additional clause extends El-Sisi’s current term to six years from four currently since his election victory in 2018, and allows him to run for a third term in 2024. 

The amendments provide for the creation of a second parliamentary chamber known as the Council of Senators. It would have 180 members, two-thirds elected by the public and the rest appointed by the president. 

Article 200 of the constitution on the role of the military is expanded, giving the military a duty to protect “the constitution and democracy and the fundamental makeup of the country and its civil nature, the gains of the people and the rights and freedoms of individuals.” 

The amendments also create the post of vice president, allowing the president to appoint one or more deputies. 

They task the president with choosing head judges and the public prosecutor from a pool of senior candidates pre-selected by the judiciary. They further create a quota setting women’s representation in Parliament at a minimum of 25 percent. 

Who is behind the amendments? 

The amendments were initiated by the pro-government parliamentary bloc known as Support Egypt, and according to the Parliament’s legislative committee report, 155 members submitted the initial proposal. On Tuesday, 531 out of 596 members of Egypt’s overwhelmingly pro-El-Sisi Parliament voted in favor of the changes. Parliament speaker Ali Abdelaal has said that the amendments were a parliamentary initiative and that El-Sisi may not even choose to run again. 

“This suggestion came from the representatives of the people in gratitude for the historic role played by the president,” the legislative committee report said. 

Proponents of the changes have argued that El-Sisi, a former army chief, came to power with a huge mandate after mass protests in 2013 against President Mohamed Mursi’s one year in office. With macro economic indicators improving, they say El-Sisi deserves more time to build on reforms. The legislative committee report said religious, academic, political and civil society representatives expressed strong overall support for the changes during a consultation period ahead of the Parliament’s final vote. 

What do opponents say? 

The legislative committee acknowledged some opposition to the amendments from members of the judiciary and two non-governmental organizations. Just 22 members of Parliament voted against the amendments. They and other opposition figures say a central promise of the 2011 uprising that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak is at risk: The principle of the peaceful transfer of power. They say the amendments were driven by El-Sisi and his close entourage, and by the powerful security and intelligence agencies. They also fear the changes thrust the armed forces into political life by formally assigning them a role in protecting democracy. 

“If you want your children and grandchildren to live in a modern democratic country with peaceful transition of power, I do not think this is the amendment we would want,” one of the opposition MPs, Haitham El-Hariri, told Parliament this week. 

While Abdelaal said a wide range of views were given a hearing during the consultation period, opposition figures and activists say genuine debate on the amendments was impossible due to a far-reaching crackdown on political dissent. 

Egyptian officials deny silencing dissent and say that Egyptians from all walks of life were given a chance to debate the amendments, adding that all views were factored into the final proposals. Abdelaal also denied that the amendments prescribe a new role for the military. 

He told Parliament that the armed forces are the backbone of the country and Egypt is “neither a military or a religious state,” state-run Al Ahram newspaper said. “This is part of (El-Sisi’s) consolidation of power,” said Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent US-based think-tank. “From an institutional perspective, Egypt’s counter-revolution is largely complete.” 

What happens next?

Egyptians abroad start voting on Friday, while the vote inside Egypt begins on Saturday, meaning Egyptians have less than four days to read and discuss the changes following their approval by Parliament. Election commissioner Lasheen Ibrahim, who announced the dates of the referendum on Wednesday, did not say when the votes will be counted or the results announced. More than a week before Parliament’s final vote, posters and banners sprung up across the capital Cairo urging people to “do the right thing” and participate, some calling directly for a “yes” vote.