For one hundred dollars or less, Iraqi academic Dr. Mohammed Ali Zinni — a graduate from Colorado State University — bought a seat in Iraq's new parliament which term begins on the first of July. As the oldest Member of Parliament, Zinni will preside over the inaugural session.
Parliamentary seat for sale!
Don’t be surprised by the word “bought,” as seats in the Iraqi parliament have become similar to the “shares” on the stock exchange, and they are traded every four years. There is also “the stock exchange” for the seats in the provincial councils and for other higher positions, such as the post of an undersecretary, the head of an institution or a body or a director general etc. Each seat comes with a figurative price tag and can amount to even millions of dollars, as has been disclosed by a judicial investigation as well as by many others who deal in these “markets.”
Being a member in the parliament or a provincial council or being the head of an institution or body in Iraq is like possessing Aladdin’s lamp or magic ring, as wealth can flow to an MP just like it flows on the minister or his deputy or any director general who intends to exploit his influence and position for personal gain.
Using sectarian, national and party quotas in the distribution of Iraqi state posts is no longer acceptable, nor viableAdnan Hussein
Apart from the salary, allowances and other privileges – which are a source of income unmatched in Iraq and many others countries – the MP also receives more money through bribes he takes from companies and businessmen whose work he facilitates at the minister or the relevant director.
A current MP has already clarified this in more than one live television interview. He said that “all” his colleagues at the parliament had received “commissions” in exchange of services they offered. In fact, he did not exclude himself and publicly admitted that at one point in time he had received $1 million for mediating on a certain case. Not a single MP objected or complained about these remarks, and the parliament did not even take any disciplinary or punitive measures against him although he confessed to receiving a bribe. Likewise, neither the Public Prosecutor’s Office nor the Commission of Integrity probed him.
Sign of hope
The $100 which Dr. Zinni bought his parliamentary seat with was used to print small and colorful pamphlets to promote himself as a candidate in the elections. These were distributed on his acquaintances and he posted a photo of them on his Facebook page. The pamphlet is small and very simple. On top, it included the name of the electoral list which Zinni was nominated for, the Civil Democratic Alliance, the number of the list and his sequence in it. It also features a picture of him next to the map of Iraq covered by the Iraqi flag. It also mentioned his academics degrees (Ph.D. in Petroleum Economics, a Master’s in the same specialty along with a Bachelor degree in Electrical Engineering and another in Law). The pamphlet also had the slogan: "The Iraqi people are now in desperate need of patriots with integrity and competence to stop the march of banditry and destruction in order to rebuild the country and look after people.”
With this small modest amount of money, Zinni won 7,351 electoral votes in the capital Baghdad thus winning him a parliamentary seat although he is not really well known in Iraq because he has been living abroad for a very long time. Others spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads and billboards that took over the city of Baghdad, its streets, yards and buildings. Some of those who spent a fortune lost in the elections while others won. The latter, who spent huge sums of money and won, will of course do their best to gain what they had spent. An MP’s salary and all allocations throughout the period of four years do not amount to $1 million. This means that their eyes will be on other illegal sources of income, which have been exposed in investigations and in the confessions of aforementioned MP.
Iraqi electors voted for many people like Dr. Zinni who didn’t spend a lot of money on their electoral campaigns and refrained from giving their voices for candidates who spent a lot of money so they failed them. An example of voting regardless of sectarian and religious identity is Christian candidate Ammar Francis Boutros who won a parliamentary seat representing the Shiite province of Wasit (Al-Kut) southeast of Baghdad, where the number of Christian families can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Boutros was nominated with the Sairoon list and won more than 5,300 votes.
Dr. Zinni, Boutros and others have won because of their reputation as honest and competent figures. Those who lost despite the large amounts of money spent on their electoral campaigns have lost also because of their reputation as sectarian or corrupt or unqualified figures who failed in performing their parliamentary duties or because of all the of the above.
Most of the current MPs whose terms are about to end had contested in the last elections, but voters only trusted 97 out of a total of 329. Among those who lost are prominent figures like the parliament speaker, his first deputy, heads of electoral blocs, ministers and MPs who were very vocal with their sectarian rhetoric.
Electing people like Dr. Zinni, Boutros and others like them, sends a message by the Iraqi people to the political class that has been controlling their fate since 2003 and which stipulates that sectarian, national and partisan quotas in distributing state posts is no longer acceptable and no longer viable.
Supposedly, the government that is being discussed by the main political forces who won the elections will reflect this non-sectarian approach which was embodied by the results of the elections. The Iraqis now want a government of national honest competencies and it does not matter if it has a majority of Sunnis or Shiites or Muslim or Christian or Yezidi or Mandeans or Arab or Kurdish or Turkmen. Otherwise, it is very likely that Iraq will witness political and social unrest that is nothing like the protest movement that carried on from mid-2015 until the eve of the last elections.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Adnan Hussein is the executive editor-in-chief of Al-Mada newspaper and head of the National Union of Iraqi journalists. Previously, he has held the position of Managing Editor in Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. He tweets under the handle @adnanhussein