The constitutional deadline to name a prime minister-designate in Iraq passed December 19 with parliament unable to agree on a candidate.
Lawmakers continued to debate who should replace Adel Abdul-Mahdi, who resigned November 29 but remains on as caretaker prime minister.
Anti-government protests that began October 1 and forced Abdul-Mahdi to step down also continued, despite a death toll of more than 450. Demonstrators rejected the people touted in the media as possible prime minister candidates, saying they belong to the corrupt ruling class the protesters are trying to depose.
Protesters have called for radical changes in Iraq’s political makeup, which include ending corruption and the muhasasa system.
“Here in Tahrir Square, we do not support a particular candidate,” said Korea Reah, an activist in Baghdad. “Iraqi President Barham Salih has the constitutional right to choose a candidate from the Tahrir streets but he does not have the will to do so. He is under the influence of the biggest blocs in parliament.”
She added: “We will keep protesting until the government chooses the one who answers to us not to them, the one who meets our expectations and aspirations. I hope international community pressures the government to help the Iraqi people decide their future, away from any external influence.”
Massive intimidation and arresting campaigns were carried out by the authorities — as well as militias — against demonstrators to subdue the leaderless protests. The whereabouts of many activists and protesters arrested are unknown.
“Both of them, the government and Iran-backed militias, could not shake a hair in our body, they could not frighten us, our peaceful revolution is continuing and will keep protesting till all our demands are met,” said Baghdad resident Tawfeeq Ihsan.
“They (government and militias) want to test our patience. They think we will get bored. The fact is we are happy to stay for a longer time on the ground until we get justice for the blood of the martyrs as well as get rid of all those who are corrupt.”
If parliament does agree on a candidate for prime minister soon, that nominee is unlikely to be accepted by protesters.
“The government does not have a suitable candidate to replace Abdul-Mahdi, “said Basra resident Alaa al-Bahadly. “All the current candidates come from the same corrupt parties, the government insists to nominate old faces and, in turn, we will reject them all.
“In Tahrir Square, we suggested a couple of names to the government to take into consideration but we were given the deaf ear. The government fears choosing a patriotic person for the prime minister post. It fears to pick someone from outside the muhasasa system. Thus, we will never give up or return home until we get someone who deserves to be Iraq’s prime minister.”
He added: “The government has to go. All the political parties must realise we do not want them anymore. We want a prime minister who is willing to rebuild Iraq not destroy it, one who gives life, not kills people just as they demand their right, one who thinks about the needs of people not favours his own benefits.”
In the absence of a consensus candidate, early elections may be the only option left to end the crisis.
“There is a big gap between the protesters and the government. The protesters announced the features of the new prime minister: he must be independent, secure justice for the killed protesters and carry out early elections under community supervision,” said political analyst Ghanim Abed.
“It is not in favour of current political class to nominate a righteous candidate while it finds itself accused in tonnes of corruption files. If the candidate comes from the people, it means government officials will face trials in the courts and be sentenced for the massacres against protesters.”
Abed said: “I think Adel Abdul-Mahdi will stay as caretaker prime minister for longer but that increases the anger of the people and means demonstrations will continue.”