World Want to run an Iraqi min­istry? Ap­ply on­line, leader says

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Asean Focus - 14

DRAIN the swamp: it’s a prom­ise lead­ers around the world are mak­ing in this era of voter cyn­i­cism and po­lit­i­cal up­heaval.

But Iraq’s Prime Min­is­ter-des­ig­nate Adel Ab­dul-mahdi may be tak­ing it fur­ther than any­one else. To form his gov­ern­ment, he opened an on­line por­tal for any­one to ap­ply to run Iraq’s 22 min­istries, posts that have come to be as­so­ci­ated with pa­tron­age and graft.

Within days, his of­fice re­ceived more than 15,000 ap­pli­ca­tions, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal me­dia, and of­fered in­ter­views to 601 can­di­dates.

Still, many here are skep­ti­cal that Ab­dul-mahdi can change how busi­ness is done. Many po­lit­i­cal par­ties have their own mili­tias and threaten to dis­rupt Iraq’s frag­ile sta­bil­ity if they do not get the min­istries they de­sire. Oth­ers are ask­ing whether it is wise to ap­point po­lit­i­cal neo­phytes to the high­est po­si­tions of gov­ern­ment.

“I’m fifty-fifty,” said Hisham al-da­habi, a so­cial worker and phi­lan­thropist, who said he ap­plied re­luc­tantly to be the min­is­ter of la­bor and so­cial af­fairs, a po­si­tion that over­sees ser­vices and pen­sions for veter­ans, their wid­ows and chil­dren.

“The par­ties will never waive their shares in the new gov­ern­ment,” said al-da­habi.

On a re­cent day at the or­phan­age he runs in the heart of Bagh­dad, al­da­habi jug­gled his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as man­ager and so­cial worker while giv­ing me­dia in­ter­views and show­ing around an ad­mir­ing del­e­ga­tion from a Euro­pean em­bassy.

Chil­dren vied for his af­fec­tions and called him “Baba,” Ara­bic for “Dad.” He scooped up an arm­ful of the youngest ones and checked their teeth — a dentist was slated to visit later in the day.

“They all want to see him, but we have to pick two,” he said.

He hadn’t told them he’d ap­plied to be a min­is­ter, and in any case he felt it was a long shot. It was a cam­paign by friends and sup­port­ers, he said, that led him to ap­ply.

One week later, al-da­habi met the prime min­is­ter-des­ig­nate. He said only that they had dis­cussed ini­tia­tives to im­prove the lives of Iraqi chil­dren.

Ab­dul-mahdi has re­mained tightlipped about his Cabi­net ap­point­ments, and his of­fice de­clined a re­quest for an in­ter­view. By law, he has un­til Novem­ber 2 to ap­point his min­is­ters, who must be approved by par­lia­ment be­fore be­ing sworn in. Iraq’s of­fi­cial news­pa­per, Al-sabah, said Mon­day that 15 ap­point­ments could come this week, and that the re­main­der would be named at a later date.

And while it is un­likely he will be able to pry the top min­istries from the hands of Iraq’s lead­ing blocs, the on­line ini­tia­tive ap­peared cal­cu­lated to bur­nish Ab­dul-mahdi’s im­age as a tech­no­crat and re­former at a time when Iraqis are fed-up with party pol­i­tics.

In May par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, turnout was just 44 per­cent — a record low — and Iraqis gave the largest share of their votes to a list cham­pi­oned by the pop­ulist cleric Muq­tada al-sadr. Al-sadr had vowed to deliver a “gov­ern­ment of tech­nocrats,” though his bloc has a poor record of run­ning min­istries in the past.

Since re­turn­ing from ex­ile in 2003, Ab­dul-mahdi, an econ­o­mist, has served as oil min­is­ter, fi­nance min­is­ter and vice pres­i­dent, de­vel­op­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dent. He is Iraq’s first prime min­is­ter in 12 years who is not from the Dawa party, blamed by many for pre­sid­ing over the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the coun­try’s civil ser­vice and unchecked mili­tia growth.

Alaa Khu­dair, a re­tired civil ser­vant, called the on­line ini­tia­tive a “pos­i­tive step” to wrest power away from the es­tab­lished par­ties that he said “failed to speak for Iraqis and pro­duce a na­tional project.”

Should any min­is­ters be ap­pointed from the on­line ap­pli­cants, they will find them­selves thrust into a re­morse­less po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, civic ac­tivist Yahya al-hafiz warned.

“The po­lit­i­cal par­ties are re­fus­ing to go along. They’re start­ing to show their fangs. This is a gov­ern­ment that works on fa­vors and deals. It’s im­pos­si­ble to think they’re go­ing to give that up,” said al-hafiz.

But Al-da­habi said he was un­fazed, and other ex­perts would not be in­tim­i­dated ei­ther.

“At least we have some ex­pe­ri­ence in our fields, and we have some ac­com­plish­ments on the ground,” he said. – AP

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