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Explainer: Why Iraqi lawmakers failed to elect a new president

Legislators, many of them allied with powerful Shia Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr, stayed away from the parliament session.

Iraqi lawmakers have failed to elect a new president as key factions blocked the process by boycotting Monday’s parliament session.

A two-thirds quorum of the legislature’s 329 members is required for an electoral session.

But Monday’s vote could not be held as legislators, many of them allied with powerful Shia Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr, stayed away.

Only 58 showed up.

Who announced the boycott?

The boycott was announced on Sunday by al-Sadr, who heads the largest parliamentary bloc with 73 seats.

He was followed by parliament speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi, who heads a bloc of 51 seats.

The 31-seat Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) then followed suit.

The Sadrist Bloc made its announcement after Iraq’s Supreme Court temporarily suspended the nomination of frontrunner Hoshyar Zebari, whose presidential bid is supported by al-Sadr.

Why was Zebari’s nomination suspended?

The high court cited pending corruption charges against the veteran Kurdish politician and former foreign minister, adding that the candidacy of the Western-friendly statesman could not proceed until corruption charges from a separate 2016 stint were dealt with.

The 2016 charges against Zebari, for which he was never convicted, stem from his time as finance minister when he was dismissed from the job over alleged corruption.

On Sunday, Zebari denied the charges and said he respected the court’s decision to temporarily suspend his candidacy until the issue is resolved.

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What happened at the session?

With no quorum, parliament speaker al-Halbousi kept the session open without scheduling a new date for another vote on a new president.

“The majority of the political parties boycotted the session due to the lack of a political agreement over the president post,” lawmaker Mishaan Jabouri said.

“Parliament will not convene until an agreement is in place.”

What happens next?

Monday’s session reflects the deep divisions among Iraq’s political factions that have only grown since the October 10 parliamentary elections, the results of which have been rejected by political groups supported by neighbouring Iran.

Iraqi politicians have not been able to agree on a compromise candidate for the country’s top post, and the delay raises concerns of a presidential vacuum that would also prevent the appointment of a prime minister.

According to Iraq’s post-war convention, the largely ceremonial post of the president should be held by a member of the country’s Kurdish minority, the prime minister must be a Shia and the parliament speaker a Sunni.

Iraq normally enters months of political deadlock after each general election as the political elite jockey for spots in the new government.

Iraqis are increasingly disillusioned with the political process, accusing nearly all their politicians of corruption.

Political analyst Ihsan al-Shammari said the failure to elect a president is a prelude to political crises that will continue to rage in Iraq until a consensus can be reached.

“Continuing to violate the constitution is an indication of the depth of the political differences between the political blocs and political forces in Iraq,” he said.

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