Thursday’s LA Times ran a piece under the headline “Iraqi President Elevates Office’s Profile.” One key passage sums up the main thrust of the article:
Although Iraq’s presidency has much less power than the prime minister’s post, [Jalal] Talabani is trying to make the most of his position.
If you want to know how he is making the most of it, I recommend the article, but what I want to address here is not what Talabani is up to so much as the structure of the presidency of Iraq.
Not only is the Iraqi presidency weaker than the prime ministership (under both the Transitional Administrative Law and the draft permanent constitution that Iraqis will vote on next month). Also the presidency itself is a collective body. It is a Presidential Council of three members, not a single individual. Yet the entire Times article is written as if the other two members who share the (limited) power of the presidency did not even exist.
As I also noted in a previous post, there were some last-minute changes in the draft permanent constitution that change the single-person presidency contemplated in earlier drafts to a three-person presidency. In other words, the draft retains the current collective institution. This was a nontrivial concession to the Sunni negotiators. And I find it surprising that this point has been missed entirely in the English-language press, as far as I can tell. I did a Lexis Nexis search and found no reference whatsoever in any news article to the existence of this council in the draft that is subject to a vote in October.
Then I decided to check out the Iraqi Presidency official website. Guess what? Even though it is only in Arabic and Kurdish (languages I do not read) it was clear from the overall presentation of the site that this is Talabani’s website, and not that of the presidency, per se (i.e. the council).
This is not a good sign. If “elevating the profile” of the presidency means highlighting only its chairman, it is not encouraging about the ability of the council to function as the forum for power-sharing among Iraq’s major communities that it is supposed to be.
It is as true as it is unfortunate that Talabani’s title is “President” and that of the other two is “Vice President.” But it is also clear that the presidency really is meant to be collective, such that they really are co-presidents. The late-added Article 135 of the draft constitution states:
The phrase (Presidential Council) replaces the phrase (President of the Republic) wherever it appears in this constitution
Also in Article 135:
The Presidential Council must take its decisions unanimously
And I misread a provision previously, because in my Aug. 29 post, I said that the collective nature of the presidency would have been enhanced if any one of its members could veto legislation. Well, that is precisely the case:
Laws and resolutions passed by the Council of Representatives are sent to the Presidential Council for approval by unanimity
That seems pretty clear: The bill is vetoed unless all three co-presidents approve it. If all do not approve, the bill is returned for another vote. If it is passed again in a way that all three members of the Presidential Council do not agree with, the parliament may override by a three-fifths majority. In other words, in effect, a simple majority cannot legislate against the wishes of any of the three members of the councilâ€”which, by the way, is elected as a collectivity by a two-thirds vote of the legislature.
Thus the presidency is not entirely weak after all. And it certainly is not one person. Even if no one is noticing and being vigilant against the current “President’s” efforts to raise his own profile over those of his co-presidents.