BAGHDAD, Feb 19, 2009 – Iraqi lawmakers were voting in a secret ballot on Wednesday to choose a new parliamentary speaker, with five Sunni Arab candidates in the race because of political rivalries.
The post has been vacant for nearly two months since Mahmud Mashhadani, an outspoken Sunni Arab in Iraq’s Shiite-dominated political system, quit as speaker on December 23.
Iyad al-Samarrai, an opponent of Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, was the front-runner, parliamentary sources said after early voting.
“We had hoped to reach an accord between the parliamentary factions on a single candidate but the National Concord Front (the main Sunni grouping) had difficulty choosing one,” deputy speaker Khalid al-Attiya said.
“So we decided to let those who wanted to stand to do so.”
The winner must secure an absolute majority of 138 votes. If there is no outright winner, a run-off will be held on Thursday betweeen the two top candidates.
A total of 225 MPs were present in the 275-member chamber for the vote.
Under Iraq’s complex political rules, Sunnis have the right to nominate the speaker but bitter infighting within the National Concord Front has seen them unable to agree on the best candidate.
The impasse has been a blow to Iraq’s fledgling democracy, which without a speaker can not debate or approve a new budget and oil laws seen as key to rebuilding the war-battered country.
Mashhadani resigned after Kurdish and Shiite MPs clamoured for him to go because he had insulted some deputies as “sons of dogs” in fierce debates about the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former US president George W. Bush.