Iraq-Business News

Iraq’s Democratic Experience – Prospects and Challenges

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Thank you for the invitation to speak here today, at the Al-Rafidain Center, on Iraq’s democratic experience.

2018 has been both an encouraging and challenging year for Iraq and its citizens. On the positive side, we witnessed two broadly successful electoral processes, consolidating Iraq’s democratic credentials. In May, within the constitutional time-frame, Iraq held its national parliamentary elections. Candidates and political parties conducted largely honourable campaigns, under an Electoral Code of Conduct drafted by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, free from sectarian-based discourse or inflammatory statements. There was, however, disappointing abuse of some, primarily female, candidates. Elections were held on time, and most people (including the displaced) were able to cast their votes and select their representatives freely and safely. The liberated areas witnessed an open voting process for the first time since the defeat of Da’esh. I commend the efforts of electoral officials, party agents and the security forces in making the elections largely peaceful, secure and orderly.

But we should not be complacent. The national elections were marked by a low voter turnout of just 44%. The decision by more than half of the voting population not to exercise their democratic right sends a strong signal of dissatisfaction to politicians over failures to meet people’s expectations or to provide for their needs, and a strong message to place the interests of the Iraqi people and the nation above partisan, sectarian, individual or group interests. I encourage the Iraqi political elites, specifically incoming ministers and members of parliament, to draw the necessary conclusions on the need for improved representation, justice for all, democratic accountability and good governance free of corruption, sectarian quotas, nepotism and patronage.

You will recall that the post-election phase was marked by widespread complaints. Allegations of electoral fraud and mismanagement resulted in the decision, which the United Nations supported, to conduct a partial manual ballot recount. I would like to note the transparent, credible and well-organised conduct of the recount (which I myself witnessed in several recount locations). I commend the professionalism of all recount staff, both Independent High Electoral Commission and judiciary personnel, under the capable, impartial supervision of the Board of Judges. I believe the recount increased public confidence in the election results. I hope it also increased confidence more generally in the electoral process.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Throughout the post-election and government formation period, the people took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the management of state affairs. Their demands must be taken seriously if the democratic process is to succeed in Iraq. The demonstrations which began in Basra in July and spread to other southern governorates including Missan, Muthanna, Qadisiya, Dhi Qar, Najaf, Karbala, Babil, Wasit, and then to Baghdad, were a clear call on the government to address the basic rights and needs of the people. The gravity of further violent protests in Basra in September sent a signal to the government to find tangible solutions to local problems of lack of delivery of basic services, shortages of electricity, lack of jobs and pervasive corruption. The protestors accused national leaders and successive governments of ignoring them and expressed deep and growing frustration with the political system, including a sectarian quota system they deem corrupt and dysfunctional, and perceived foreign interference in internal affairs.

While many political leaders expressed their support for the demands of the protesters, there has been little actual progress in effecting change. Former Prime Minister Abadi and the Council of Ministers made commendable efforts to implement some rapid relief measures, but these remain insufficient to address the depth of people’s needs and concerns. The new government now needs to prioritise political, economic and social reforms, justice, equality and accountability, reconciliation and the fight against corruption. Job creation will enable economic development, stability and prosperity, while Iraq should maintain its sovereignty and independence, free from foreign interference. The challenges faced by Iraq are deep-rooted and can only be tackled by strong and unified governance. Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi and his cabinet of ministers must engage in a fight against corruption, while the new Council of Representatives should reform laws that do not embed justice and equality.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I commend the successful completion of the Kurdistan Region parliamentary elections. Again, accusations of electoral fraud were fully investigated. On 30 October, the Electoral Judicial Panel of the Kurdistan Region Court of Cassation approved the election results. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have assured us of their intention to consult closely with all local political parties on government formation. The Kurdistan Islamic Union and the New Generation Movement have announced that they will form an Opposition in the Kurdistan Parliament. All this is welcome progress. However, to date there have been no formal agreements on government formation. In this regard we urge the Kurdish parties to complete negotiations and the formation of the parliament to ensure that the needs of the people can be proactively addressed.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The United Nations was reassured to note that Mr Abdul-Mahdi, as PM-designate, received the endorsement of many prominent parliamentary blocs to choose his ministers freely, on the basis of their capabilities and experience rather than sectarian or political quota systems. We commended the democratic transfer of power between the outgoing Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi and incoming Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi within the Constitutional timeline. At the handover ceremony on 25 October, Mr. Abadi recalled the achievements of his government. He and his government, the Kurdistan regional government, the armed forces and the people of Iraq do indeed deserve acknowledgment and gratitude for the progress made thus far. While the government formation process has not been without difficulty, the political blocs have demonstrated willingness to act in support of the Prime Minister. Competition and differences have been largely political and not sectarian, and in this way, a break from the past. Iraq must now build on these foundations.

I remain concerned that the government formation process has stalled as disagreements over some ministerial posts continues to divide political parties and blocs. The United Nations urges Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi and the political parties to reach agreement and complete the cabinet. All political forces now share a responsibility for creating an enabling environment for the new Prime Minister and government to deliver on their programme and for ensuring political stability. The Government’s new programme, on which the United Nations was invited to offer advice is ambitious and forward looking. It outlines specific plans for reform, investment and the private sector, tackling corruption and for transitioning Iraq from a crisis context to sustainable development. It prioritises job creation, greater governorate-level participation, rehabilitation and reconstruction of liberated areas and the return of the displaced. It focuses on strengthening security, fighting terrorism, enhancing law and order and the rule of law. Special attention will be given to resolving pending challenges with the Kurdistan Region, including the issues of budget allocation and financial resources, oil and disputed areas. For this programme to be achieved, Iraq will require the continued support of the international community but also sustained political support from political leaders and parties within the parliament. On international relations, I commend Iraq’s new leaders who have acted without delay in engaging regional governments – fostering bilateral relations, tackling regional challenges such as terrorism, water issues, and discussing economic cooperation and investment for the reconstruction of Iraq.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Among the priority tasks for the new parliament is preparing the upcoming provincial council elections. With the expanding role of provincial councils in governance, the candidate choices made freely and fairly by the electorate will be extremely important for the country’s development. I welcome the Electoral Commission’s announcement of resumption of the biometric voter registration process. And I am pleased that for the first time since 2005, the Kirkuk governorate will participate in these elections – a critical step on the path to the normalisation of Kirkuk’s status and of politics in the governorate. Negotiations on the reactivation of the Kirkuk Provincial Council continue, with United Nations-supported discussions between local political actors from the Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen communities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased that several female candidates received a high number of votes within their political lists, and that 19 female candidates were elected to parliament on this basis. Our expectation for the future is that the 25% quota which currently guarantees 83 seats for women, will represent a minimum threshold, not a fixed number. I urge political leaders to ensure the full participation of women within the new government and their representation at the highest levels in Iraq’s political and decision-making structures in the parliament and the government. I very much regret that no female or minority candidates have yet been appointed to ministerial positions; and while I welcome assurances that Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi will include them in future governmental posts, I feel that an opportunity has been missed. Women must get a full chance to play key roles in shaping the post-Da’esh future of their country. Equality and empowerment of women must be central to all peace, justice, legislative, reconciliation and reform efforts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Democracy and improved standards of living cannot be realised within an environment of persistent insecurity. Although Da’esh’s so-called caliphate has been defeated, the terrorist organisation continues to pose a threat. Iraqi Security Forces and the Popular Mobilisation Forces have maintained constant pressure on the remaining Da’esh presence and activities across North, Central and West Iraq throughout the year through successive security clearance operations. Challenges however remain for improving the overall security environment. The new government must reform and rehabilitate its security sector, putting it firmly under state control.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The United Nations works hard to support Iraq and its people. With the government formation process now close to completion, we hope that the country will continue on its journey to democracy. We will continue to offer advice and engagement. We will continue to work in partnership with the government and the people of Iraq to build progress. A prosperous future built on democracy and the rule of law – an Iraq in which the rights and needs of every citizen are recognized and fulfilled.

Thank you.

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