BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s parliament canceled a vote on Thursday on a cabinet reshuffle proposed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as part of an anti-corruption drive, fueling discontent among MPs who held a mock ballot ousting the assembly’s speaker.
Several dozens lawmakers have staged a sit-in in parliament since Tuesday in protest over a revised list of candidates for the cabinet’s new line-up which Abadi has put forward. They say it will again result in corruption and bias.
The dissenting MPs argue that because Abadi drew up his list in consultation with Iraq’s main political parties, it upholds the system of ethnic and sectarian quotas instituted after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, which critics say allowed certain groups to amass more wealth and influence than others.
They want Abadi to stick to an initial line-up of non-partisan technocrats he presented on March 31.
Neither speaker Salim al-Jabouri nor Abadi showed up in the main hall of parliament on Thursday, prompting the dissenting MPs to convene a mock session where they removed the speaker.
Jabouri told a news conference the session wasn’t held because the premier didn’t show up and there was no quorum. Abadi’s office did not say why he chose not to attend.
Jabouri criticized “the state of unruliness” created by the protesters, referring to a brawl that broke out on Wednesday between the MPs during a discussion over the planned reshuffle.
Political tension has been rising as Abadi struggles to deliver a government overhaul he announced in February under pressure from the clergy of Iraq’s Shi‘ite majority.
Iraq, a major OPEC exporter which sits on one of the world’s largest oil reserves, ranks 161 out of 168 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.
Jabouri said another meeting will be held on Saturday without indicating if a vote will be held then.
The speaker did not say which of the two lists Abadi had planned to present for the vote on Thursday, but local TV channels reported that he may ask MPs to choose between them, or to consider a third alternative.
On Thursday, some of the dissenters, who include Sunni and Shi‘ite members of parliament, said they planned to request a no-confidence vote in Abadi, a Shi‘ite, speaker Jabouri, a Sunni, and the Iraqi president, Fuad Masum, a Kurd.
“The only subject we are willing to discuss is deposing the three presidents,” Haytham al-Jabouri, a spokesman for the dissenting MPs, told a news conference.
Salim al-Jabouri, the speaker, said that the dissenting MPs would be able to voice their grievances at Saturday session but he did not make it clear if Abadi will show up.
He said the protesters’ vote to remove him, which was broadcast on state TV and pan-Arab channels, was not constitutional and that he would chair the next session.
Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Dominic Evans