How can politicians afford to make independent decisions while depending on funds to finance his or her election campaign? This frequently heard question is again being raised in Iraq as election-day draws closer and the heated campaigns and their financial cost is perceptible everywhere.
Haidar al-Ebadi, a leader in the state of law coalition, stated that the Coalition has received about $250 million from a European country to directly fund its campaign. The content of the statement did not come as a surprise; for everyone knows that many of Iraq’s politicians receive funds from regional and international players – including Iran and some of the Arab states.
For the past few years, Iraq’s political elite have avoided any strenuous attempt to pass a law that would regulate the work of the political entities in Iraq. Foreign funding has been instrumental and has provided a key motive for sustained procrastination to pass a law to that effect. Political entities still operate under the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order No. 97 that was issued during the transitional period to regulate the work of political entities that seek to run for the elections of the then Iraqi National Assembly. Although most CPA and Iraqi Governing Council orders have since then been replaced by standing constitutional laws and regulations, none of the key political actors inside the Iraqi Council of Representatives (CoR) submitted a clear-cut bill to regulate parties in Iraq.
A glance at Iraq’s political entities, particularly the larger ones, is enough to discern the huge funds that they spend on their activities. Most have enormous financial capacities and are well represented in almost all of Iraq's eighteen governorates. They also pay wages and salaries to the majority of their staff, aside from spending on their political and mass activities, publications, radio and satellite TV stations, as well as their affiliate Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). Moreover, some of these political powerhouses pay for the wages and equipment of thousands of their supporters recruited in militias.
Within the context of the race for the next COR in Iraq, one can highlight phenomenal practices in the campaigns that the political entities have launched. Some of these campaigns have grown to be so enormous that their like might not be found in far wealthier countries. There is massive spending on huge posters, signs and commercials on TV and Radio stations – one can only begin to imagine the high cost of such campaigns.
In its report, the independent and highly credible Iraqi Democratic Future Network (IDFN), which monitors elections in Iraq, highlighted the attempts by some candidates to buy votes. In the absence of state financial and legal support for these entities and since a law to regulate their work continues to be unavailable, the sources of their funds are obscured. Many sources and indicators foretell that they are flowing from countries with contradicting interests in Iraq. The ultimate test is whether these entities can remain independent in their decisions and credible in their discourse of public service as they continue to receive direct or indirect financial and logistical support from foreign forces that have their own agendas in a country that is already plagued by external interventions.
An integrated legal matrix needs to be established so that the work of political entities is well regulated. The starting point should be to develop a clear mechanism to form political parties and regulate their work and funding. The eventual destination of such a mechanism would be to regulate campaign funding while incorporating elements of transparency and oversight without restricting the freedom of party life. What is required is regulation that is founded in democracy to ensure equal opportunities for everyone to take part in politics.
Yet one has to realize that it is too easy to theorize an effective legal matrix, for in practice taking such a step might mean walking right into a danger zone since some political powers would consider such a law a declaration of war to limit the influence and power they have acquired through their financial resources. Such powers would most definitely fight efforts at reform and attempt to forge a hollow law on political parties, particularly when it comes to the monitoring and regulation of funding. Those committed to democracy in Iraq will have to redouble their efforts to establish such a legal matrix, which would be in the common interest of all Iraqis who would benefit from the flourishing of independent parties now struggling to compete with other over-funded entities.