Iraq president promises early elections, with PM 'willing to resign'

Iraq president promises early elections, with PM 'willing to resign'
Responding to a month of countrywide protests, Iraq's president vowed to push through early elections, while announcing PM Abdel Mahdi would resign if a replacement was found.
2 min read
31 October, 2019
President Barham Saleh (R) announced the PM Adel Abdel Mahdy (L) may resign [Getty]
Iraq's President Barham Saleh vowed on Thursday to hold early parliamentary elections once a new law electoral law is passed, and said the country's embattled prime minister would resign if an alternative was found.

Saleh addressed the nation in a televised speech responding to mass protests that have swept the country, demanding radical political and economic overhaul, focused on corruption, unemployment and deteriorating public services.

So far the authorities' only response to the demonstrations has been brutal suppression, with the security forces having killed at least 250 protesters with live bullets and tear gas grenades.

However Saleh's cautious reforms, announced in his first official public address in weeks, appear unlikely to appease disaffected Iraqis, although they have demanded Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi's resignation for weeks.

"I will agree on early elections based on a new electoral law and new electoral commission," Saleh said, adding that the draft would be submitted to parliament next week.

He said Abdel Mahdi was ready to step down but there was so far no one to take his place.

"The prime minister expressed his willingness to submit his resignation, asking the political parties to reach an agreement on an acceptable alternative," Saleh added.

Such a consensus would "prevent a constitutional vacuum," he said.

According to Iraq's 2005 constitution, the prime minister can be put to a vote of no confidence based on a request by either the president or lawmakers.

It does not address what happens if the premier resigns.

Abdel Mahdi, 77, came to power a year ago through a tenuous partnership between populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri.

Sadr had called for the PM to resign and for early elections to be held, but Abdel Mahdi dismissed his demands in a letter earlier this week.

"If the goal of elections is to change the government, then there is a shorter way: for you to agree with Mr. Ameri to form a new government," Abdel Mahdi wrote.

In Tahrir Square, the main protest camp in Baghdad, Haydar Kazem, 49, said he was unconvinced.

"The problem is with the ruling parties, not with Abdel Mahdi," he said. 

Read more: 'Our youth are being shot at': Iraq's protests in pictures

According to Iraq's complex confessional system, the prime minister is Shia Muslim, the president is a Kurd and the speaker of parliament is Sunni Muslim.

The entrenched political class is often subject to competing influence from Tehran on one side and Washington on the other.

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