Does Iraq’s President Hold Any Real Power?
|July 26, 2014||Filled under Iraq Daily News|
Iraq Daily News -
The position of president in Iraq has always been described as an honorific one without privileges, which does not allow its occupant to affect the political course of events. However, this description does not stem from the Iraqi constitution’s texts, which grant the president significant privileges that put him in competition with the prime minister.
The Iraqi parliament elected Fouad Massoum president during the July 24 session as part of the second voting round, with a majority of 211 MPs out of the 269 who attended.
As soon as he receives the tasks attributed to his position, Massoum will have to recreate the position of president by regaining this role’s privileges, which have been suspended in recent years.
The task of restoring the privileges of the president starts by reviewing Article 66 of the Iraqi constitution, which states, “The federal executive power shall consist of the president of the republic and the Council of Ministers, and shall exercise its powers in accordance with the constitution and the law.”
This article is pivotal, since it joins the president and cabinet under one definition, which is summarized by the “executive power.”
Moreover, Article 67 of the constitution gives another clarification for the privileges and states, “The president of the republic is the head of the state and a symbol of the unity of the country and represents the sovereignty of the country. He shall guarantee the commitment to the constitution and the preservation of Iraq’s independence, sovereignty, unity and the safety of its territories, in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.”
There aren’t any legal approaches capable of turning the president’s tasks mentioned in the Iraqi constitution into legitimate ones. The constitution, as well as the laws that are supposed to be approved by the Iraqi parliament, have not specified how the president can apply his description as the symbol of the country’s unity and ensurer of the respect of the constitution, and turn his tasks into clear executive plans of action.
It was important in the past few years for the Iraqi parliament to prepare a law that grants the president executive mechanisms to fulfill his constitutional description, especially when it comes to ensuring the respect of the constitution.
Article 60 of the Iraqi constitution presents proof that the president has executive powers. This article stirred wide controversy in the past four years after the Constitutional Court issued in 2010 an explanation for it, restricting the right of presenting draft laws to the executive authority. Parliament’s task became limited to voting on the draft laws submitted by the executive authority or presenting “law proposals” that the executive authority wouldn’t necessarily have to turn into draft laws.
Article 60 of the constitution states the following, “First: Draft laws shall be presented by the president of the republic and the Council of Ministers. Second: Proposed laws shall be presented by 10 members of the Council of Representatives or by one of its specialized committees.”
The first clause of the article joins again the cabinet and the president under one definition and grants both parties the right to submit draft laws. However, the past four years did not show that the president practiced his right to submit draft laws or even participate in preparing ones for the cabinet to present to the parliament, as per the constitution. The only exception was when former President Jalal Talabani presented the “demarcation of provinces” draft law in November 2011. The law was more political, rather than being an attempt to restitute the privileges of the president.
In fact, the consensual system in Iraq did not allow Talabani to perform a role in the structure of the executive authority. He could not contribute to preparing the laws that the country urgently needed — laws whose absence constituted a weak point for the political process in Iraq.
Today, the question is raised to the Iraqi president: Is he or the political party to which he adheres, the Kurdistan Alliance, willing to take a personal initiative, or use the presidential system, to effectively participate in filling the huge legal vacuum in Iraq? Is he ready to start by seizing his constitutional privileges and exerting them on par with the prime minister?
The answer to this question will be very important in the coming weeks. Past experiences have proven that the legal gap was one of the main aspects of the governmental failure, on the security, political and economic levels, to explain the constitution. Moreover, the parties have accused each other of violating the constitutional texts, and this is because the constitutional text that grants the president the privilege of “ensuring the respect of the constitution” was not applied.
Iraq needs dozens of laws that would clear the air between the executive and legislative authorities as well as among Baghdad, Iraqi Kurdistan and the provinces. It also needs laws that remove the system of governing the state through a group of acting officials. Those have been occupying interim positions for years, although the constitution stipulates the positions must be elected in Article 61.
Continuing legal chaos in Iraq requires that the Iraqi president play a new role to contribute to the foundations of the state and seeking the needed balance between the government and the presidency. The president should also play a role in improving Iraq’s foreign relations and governing a consensual system between the political parties, thus restoring the dialogue that has been disrupted between them for years.
The presidency is a position with suspended powers. It is not true that the presidency in Iraq is an honorific position, as some have been saying. The Iraqi constitution places the president in a very delicate position, whether regarding his ability to propose laws and protect the constitution, or through his effective contribution in formulating governmental political and security decisions.
The next stage in Iraq should be accompanied by a reconsideration for the position of president, whose privileges have been suspended under a previous political consensus.
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