Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi vetoing the electoral law that was passed by the Iraqi parliament last week after months of delay has made news in even American media outlets, which means it must be important. According to the Iraqi Constitution, any one of Iraq's three-member Presidency Council can veto legislation. Hashemi has vetoed the electoral law because the law stipulates that Iraq's religious minorities and refugees abroad will be given 5% of the seats in the Iraqi parliament. Hashemi believes this percentage is far too low, since there are approximately 2 million Iraqi refugees - most of whom are Sunnis living in Jordan and Syria - out of a population of 25 million people.
When one does the math, Hashemi has a point. Allocating only 5% of parliamentary seats to the two million refugees abroad is an under-representation. Moreover, Hashemi's veto has engendered charges of sectarianism, since Hashemi is a Sunni and so are most of Iraq's two million refugees living in Syria and Jordan. He is seen by many to be acting out of concern for his constituents.
The stalling of the electoral law in the Iraqi parliament means that elections may be delayed. They are supposed to be held on January 18, 2010, but may be pushed back to February or even later if the electoral law isn't passed and approved quickly. This could create a constitutional crisis in Iraq, since the constitution mandates that national elections be held no later than January 30, 2010.
In addition to Hashemi's objection, the Kurdish Alliance had threatened to boycott the vote in Kurdistan unless they were granted a greater number of seats as well. President Talabani - a Kurd - did not veto the legislation, however.
This political turmoil may not end soon, which could seriously delay elections and precipitate a constitutional crisis if a vote isn't held by January 30th. It will be difficult for Hashemi to climb down from his demand to increase the allotment of seats to Iraqi refugees from 5% to 15% without losing vital political capital. The stakes are high, since high Sunni turnout may give the Hashemi-Mutlaq coalition significant leverage in forming the next government.