Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh told al-Sharq al-Awsat yesterday that provincial elections elections would be held with the old law at the end of December if the new one couldn't be quickly passed. There have actually been a flurry of such comments in the Iraqi press over the last few days, including comments by Yusif Ahmed, a member of Parliament from the Kurdish bloc, that he expected a reversion to the old law and another MP saying that the parties in the government (which he didn't name) were talking up the legal status of the old law as a way to hold the elections before the end of this year, Ammar al-Hakim suddenly talking up early elections (scan to Visser's Sept 11 post), and more.
I had inititally shrugged off those remarks as bargaining gambits, threats made to try and force an agreement at a time when by most reports the ongoing consultations weren't getting anywhere, tempers were rising, and the "July 22" group was demanding that Talabani and Abd al-Mehdi retract their vetoes and even threatening a boycott of Parliament. But then I started hearing rumors that a deal was actually in the works to actually do this, to evert to the old closed-list law just in order to get the elections done by the end of the year. I just don't know how much truth there is to those rumors, although the sudden burst of such commentary suggests that the idea is at least circulating.
If the elections are indeed rushed ahead under the old law because the Parliament and government could not reach agreement on the election law, it would be pretty devastating. Failure to reach agreement on a provincial election law after all these months would be a highly symbolic indictment of the political status quo and a clear demonstration of the significance of the divisions which Brian Katulis and I laid out in our report yesterday. It would also be a significant victory for the current ruling elite and another potentially crippling setback to the would-be challengers who expected to be empowered by a new round of elections. Holding the elections is important, but getting the rules right is more important than meeting an arbitrary deadline. Let's hope that it doesn't in fact play out this way, that this is just a negotiating tactic, and that Iraqi politicians can come to a basic working agreement on the rules of the coming political struggle. Because the alternatives, whether a collapsing house of cards or an incipient authoritianism, don't look very attractive... however likely.