History's End

History will end only when Man does

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  • Sunday, April 10, 2005

    A Figurehead, or Something Else?

    has in interview/story about Iraq's new President, Jalal Talabani, who is the first Kurd to become President of Iraq, or any country in the world as a matter of fact. It can be found here. The part that most interested me was this:

    He disputed the view of some critics that his role will be largely symbolic.

    "That is not true," he said. "According to the law, the president represents the sovereignty of Iraq, and he has the right to look over all important issues and affairs of the government.

    "He -- with two vice presidents and with the prime minister and his deputies and with the speaker of the house -- they are forming a collective leadership," Talabani said.
    Talabani is in a unique position, with the closest similarity being the position held by George Washington as the first president of the United States of America. It is up to Talabani to establish the importance of the job of President in Iraq, and to set precedent for his role in government. If he is involved, active and energetic enough, he can set the standard for how Iraq's President is to act. The post itself doesn't posses many powers, as defined by the temporary Constitution. However, as there is no previous President to base their standards on, the people of Iraq aren't sure how to view the post of President. Is he merely a figurehead, or something more? Remember, political power often is granted as much by public opinion and perceptions as it is by constitutional law. Its entirely possible that a capable and cunning Talabani could transform the post into a kind of supervisor. Someone who doesn't do the actual management of government, which is entrusted to the Prime Minister, but supervises the Prime Minister instead. If Talabani is successful, the Prime Minister could be seen by the Iraqi people as working for the President, rather than the Prime Minister being the leading position in national politics alone. I doubt that the current Prime Minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, will allow this to happen, of course. In fact, I suspect that if Talabani does attempt to increase the power and/or prestige of the Presidency, an adversarial relationship between the two could develop.

    Of course, this is the situation only under the present constitution, and the final one, which is supposed to be worked out by mid August, could end up quite different. I suspect that it won't, though. The present Constitution serves as a compromise in many different ways, and superior methods of achieving those compromises will be difficult or impossible to find. Hence, I suspect that structurally the Iraqi government under the present Constitution will be very similar. The only thing I suspect might be different is the relationship between President and Prime Minister, especially if there is some conflict between the two prior to the final draft being completed.

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