The Iraqi parliament finally on Tuesday elected the Kurdish politician Barham Salih as the new president, after two days of debate among the various political factions. According to the Iraqi constitution, the president of the country is elected by the lawmakers. Since fall of the former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Kurds held the post.
Why did it take a month to elect a president?
Although the new parliament held its first session a month ago, the Iraqi parliamentarians did not manage to pick a new president before Tuesday night at the last minutes.
The Kurdish parties normally nominate their candidates for the post. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), led by Masoud Barzani, and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), led by Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, the widow of the party’s founder, were divided over the candidates and this was the main issue lengthening the process.
The Barzani family-dominated KDP nominated Fuad Hussein, 72, who is a veteran Kurdish politician. The PUK announced Barham Salih, 58, as its choice. Saleh formerly served as the deputy Iraqi prime minister and also the prime minister of the Kurdish Regional Government. He is considered a moderate diplomat and is critical of Erbil’s separatist agenda.
The Monday parliament session failed to meet the threshold to become official due to the absence of some of the members of parliament. Bu the Tuesday’s was an official meeting during which the lawmakers held a voting operation to fill the post.
Some of the Kurdish lawmakers declined to attend the Monday session on purpose as the intra-Kurdish debates on the candidates went nowhere in the day. According to the constitution, the candidate needs two-thirds of the votes to win. If this threshold is not met, no president can be elected. It was not until Tuesday the Iraqis reached a consensus on a figure for the post.
What happened at the meeting?
When the session opened, the parliament’s Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi announced that 301 lawmakers were present, meaning that the threshold was met to declare the meeting official and ready for voting.
At the meeting, four candidates, Abdulkarim Ali Abtan, Salim Hamzeh, Abdullatif Rashid, and Omar al Bazanji, withdrew their candidacy, leaving the floor empty for the two main candidates.
The PUK bloc’s head announced that the party’s nominee for the post was Barham Salih. The KDP, on the other side, declared Fuad Hussein as its candidate. After the two parties’ announcements, the speaker launched the voting process.
In the first round, none of the candidates gained two-thirds of the votes and so the competition led to a runoff. The KDP withdrew its candidate as he failed to win outright.
But the speaker insisted that Fuad Hussein should remain for the runoff because he did not announce withdrawal personally. The voting ended with an overwhelming win for Salih to become the eighth president of modern Iraq as he gained 165 votes and Hussein followed him by 89 votes.
Following Saddam collapse, the fifth president Qazi Mashal Ajil al-Yawar served as the head of the transitional government from 2004-2005. His successor was Jalal Talabani who governed until his disease deteriorated in 2014. Next politician to fill the post was Fuad Masum of the PUK.
Salih, a moderate technocrat
During his political life, Barham Salih often took essentially strategic stances both in addressing the home and foreign policy. He is a man with massive political experience.
Salih served as the PM of the Kurdistan region’s government from 2001 to 2004. He took many posts in the post-Saddam Iraq. For example, he served as deputy prime minister under Ayad Alawi in 2004. He held the same post under Nouri al-Maliki up to 2009. And was the minister of planning under PM Ibrahim al-Jaafari in 2005. Before Saddam fall, Salih was the head of Suleymaniya local government in the east of the autonomous Kurdish region. The personal charisma combined with political capabilities gave him the “doctor of the nation” nickname in the Kurdish region.
Beside the main party support, Salih has popular backing among the Kurdish citizens. Before the election took place, there was an opposition among the people to see a candidate from the KDP, whose image is badly damaged for its mismanagement and corruption, take the post. To prevent that, they threw their support behind the PUK nominee.
His stances at home and abroad are extremely pro-unity and interests. For instance, during the past few years of dispute between the regional and central government, he called for Baghdad and Erbil to peacefully solve their rifts. He is expected to minimize the Baghdad-Erbil tensions to the lowest degree in the coming years.
When it comes to the foreign policy, he is a pro-stability and cooperation politician, too. He is among those who appreciate the unwavering support of Iran to the Iraqi government and people, including in their war against terrorism.
Iraqi politics back on track
Now that a new president is elected, the Iraqi politics returned to its main course, allowing the country to fast form a new cabinet.
After his election, Salih took the oath of the presidency before the members of parliament. He vowed to protect the constitution and serve the whole Iraqis, not a specific group, adding: “I am now the president of all of the Iraqi people.” He went on to pledge to protect the country’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Immediately after the election, he officially named Adil Abdul-Mahdi to form the new government. According to the law, the PM-designate has one month to present his cabinet to the parliament.