Numbers and rumours regarding the participation of various blocs have been flying around ever since the beginning of Sunday’s session. Regarding the parties that refrained from attending, the reports have been quite consistent: The State of Law bloc of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki along with Shiite Islamists allies Badr, Fadila and, somewhat more surprisingly perhaps since they are not in alliance for the local elections except in the north, the ISCI-Muwatin bloc of Ammar al-Hakim. Also the White bloc, a mostly Shiite breakaway faction from the secular-Sunni dominated Iraqiyya boycotted the session. That means there were MPs present from Iraqiyya (whose constituencies have played the dominant role in the recent protests), the Kurds, and the Sadrists.
The theoretical parliamentary strength of those who boycotted is around 130, whereas the attendants, again in theory, should at least be able to muster 170 deputies, above the 163 mark that signifies the quorum level in the Iraqi parliament. Things got quite ironic during the course of Sunday as press reports made headlines to the effect that the quest to reach quorum was so intense (and the general attendance level of the Iraqiyya deputies so poor) that even Iraqiyya leader Ayyad Allawi came to parliament (he usually doesn’t, although it is of course his a duty as an MP to attend). In the end, it wasn’t enough. According to the official parliamentary report, 161 deputies attended, just 2 MPs short of quorum. This is higher than some of the unofficial figures that circulated earlier on Sunday but of course not enough to hold a valid parliamentary session.
It should be added here that even the act of cancelling a bill in practice requires a “legislative project” that needs to pass two readings. This is relevant since there was some talk about projected attempts to strike down anti-terror legislation with which many of the Anbar protestors are unhappy.
What this means in practice is that the most that can be expected by parliament in terms of radical anti-Maliki action in a hastily convened session like that of yesterday is passage of a bill that has already been through two readings, such as the vote on thesupreme court bill, or perhaps the general amnesty law. Passage of such items in the absence of Maliki should not be excluded altogether despite yesterday’s failure. For example, on the amnesty law, Sadrists and Iraqiyya have seen eye to eye in the past. The successful vote for an electoral commission that was not to Maliki’s liking shows that there is no hard veto preventing the Shiite parties for going against Maliki as long as the subject matter is not the survival of the Shiite-led government as such.
Maliki allies have rightly pointed out that the idea of a “consultative” session is an innovation. Constitutionally, what happened Sunday was nothing more than a tea party. But the session was very close to achieving quorum, and Maliki should not exclude the possibility that similar attempts to score political points will be launched prior to the 20 April local elections. With a coalition-strategy that looks more sectarian than in 2009, he is also less immune to this kind of parliamentary action than he was earlier.