Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The 2005 Election Law Seen as Unconstitutional; Seat Distribution Key in Doubt

Posted by Reidar Visser on Tuesday, 24 November 2009 15:17

Western media have largely reacted with apathy and/or predictable “primordialist” interpretations to the recent showdown in the Iraqi parliament over the election law. According to this view, Shiites and Kurds secured more seats for themselves; Sunnis complain they do not get many enough.

To some extent, such interpretations are more warranted in this particular case than they have been for a long while in Iraqi politics, since some of the new tension does indeed follow sectarian lines. Lost in the debate, however, is a series of more legally oriented arguments which should be of relevance to any Iraqi, regardless of sectarian or ethnic background or orientation. Recently, Yahya Abad Mahjub, an Iraqi Islamic Party politician of Mosul, pointed out that Tawafuq had earlier complained about the seat distribution used in 2005 to the federal supreme court, and that Mosul supposedly had been awarded “priority” in the next distribution of seats. Whereas the exact details of that legal case remain unclear, at least one other skeleton relating to the 2005 law can now be identified. In a ruling (15/T/2006) dated 26 April 2007, the Iraqi federal supreme court did indeed consider a claim by the Tawafuq bloc regarding the constitutionality of the 2005 election law. While parts of the claim were dismissed (an attempt had been made by Tawafuq to also claim that the 2005 election law, which predated the constitution, was in conflict with the Transitional Administrative Law of 2004), some of it was supported. In particular, the court appears to have concluded that article 15 of the 2005 election law is indeed in conflict with article 49 of the constitution

فأن نص المادة 15 ثانيا من قانون الانتخابات أصبح متعارضا مع نص المادة 49 من الدستور

since it bases the distribution of seats on statistics of “registered voters” and not on the total population. In its “decision”, the court says each part has lost and won a little (technically, the president of the parliament was sued by Tawafuq, and the TAL-related bit of the claim was dismissed). Thus, the legitimacy of the existing parliament would not be affected, but parliament should prepare a new election law in conformity with the constitution.

Now, crucially, the amendment passed in the Iraqi parliament yesterday could be in conformity with the constitution, but the predominant interpretations of it certainly are not! A reading of the first paragraph shows that the “statistics of the trade ministry” are to be used for calculating the 1:100,000 deputy/voter ratio per governorate. What has already been established by the federal supreme court is that those statistics must relate to total population and not to registered voters. But the seat distribution estimates that have generated so much debate in Iraq in recent days are based on 2005 figures which in turn relate to registered voters and not to total population. In principle, they should be useless for calulating new seat quotas, that is, of course, unless there is perfect correlation in all governorates between rates of registered voters and total population.

Whether the language chosen by the drafters of the law in the relevant paragraph is a conscious attempt to avoid censure for a second time by the federal supreme court or whether it is just a case of oversight remains unclear. What does seem evident, however, is that the trade ministry must now produce statistics of the entire population from 2005, and not just refer to registered voters. This is important – and also offers a hope for compromise – since the politicians of Mosul have always claimed that the correlation between registered voters and total population in the Nineveh governorate was weaker than elsewhere in Iraq due to the security situation, with more potential voters unregistered. Of course, if the trade ministry and/or the IHEC chooses to come up with 2005 statistics of the total population that show perfect correlation with the numbers of registered voters, then suspicion will come to the fore again. But the ministry and the elections commission now have a real possibility for averting a second veto and rescuing the elections as long as they choose to act in a genuinely neutral fashion.

The other implication of the federal supreme court ruling is that there really is no fallback position in the 2005 law, since it has already been declared by the highest court in the country to contradict the constitution. So far, the legal arguments from the federal supreme court have not received much attention in the Iraqi public debate, but hopefully they may inform the controversy now expected over a possible second veto.

18 Responses to “The 2005 Election Law Seen as Unconstitutional; Seat Distribution Key in Doubt”

  1. Sam Parker said

    Reidar, can you provide a link for that ruling? It’s hard to evaluate your post without reading it. Article 49 says nothing about province distribution, and therefore does require electoral laws to guarantee some level of geographical representation. Indeed, there were other electoral systems being considered (like the single-district one used in the pre-constitution, Sunni-boycott January 2005 elections) in which it would only be voter turnout that determined provincial representation. It sounds like in the ruling you refer to the court is interpreting 49 very broadly, and to me it’s a stretch to say that the constitution requires COR/IHEC to allocate seats to each province one particular way or another. I’m happy to be proved wrong, but without seeing the ruling in question I am not yet convinced by your post.

  2. Reidar Visser said

    Sam, here it is. I hope it works with the formatting. As said, it is the discrepancy between (total) “population” and “registered voters” as basis for calculating the seats that appears to be key, and there is no doubt that the court asks parliament to come up with something better. Note also that there is a actually a spelling error in this important document! At one point there is a mim missing in “adam” for the rather crucial term “unconstitutional”, but the context should make everything perfectly clear, and that is also the way it has been interpreted by Iraqis. The relevant part is towards the end of the ruling; the first part deals with the TAL, where the Tawafuq claim is deemed to have no basis.

    القــــرار :
    لدى التدقيق والمداولة من المحكمة الاتحادية العليا وجد أن وكلاء الجهة المدعية طلبوا بعد إقامة الدعوى وفي جلسة المرافعة المؤرخة 13/12/2006 وفي لوائحهم الحكم بعدم دستورية نص المادة (15/ثانيا”) من قانون الانتخابات رقم (16) لسنة 2005 لمخالفة المادة (31/أ) من قانون إدارة الدولة العراقية للمرحلة الانتقالية والتي نصت على أنه (تتألف الجمعية الوطنية من (275) مقعدا” وتقوم بسن القانون الذي يعالج استبدال أعضاؤها في حالة الاستقالة أو الوفاة بعد أن طلبوا في عريضة دعواهم الحكم بعدم دستورية المادة (15/ثانيا”) من قانون الانتخابات رقم (16) لسنة 2005 لمخالفتها للمادة (49) من الدستور ، ولدى التمعن في الدعوى وفي طلبات وكلاء المدعية تبين أن الانتخابات التي جرت في العراق لأنتخاب أعضاء مجلس النواب قد جرت في ظل قانون إدارة الدولة العراقية للمرحلة الانتقالية وأن الفقرة /ثانيا” من المادة (15) من قانون الانتخابات رقم (16) لسنة 2005 نصت بأن تكون كل محافظة وفقا” للحدود الإدارية الرسمية دائرة انتخابية تختص بعدد من المقاعد يتناسب مع عدد الناخبين المسجلين في المحافظة حسب انتخابات (30/كانون الثاني/2005)(المعتمد على نظام البطاقة التموينية) يتضح مما تقدم آنفا” ان المادة (31/أ) من قانون إدارة الدولة العراقية للمرحلة الانتقالية لم تعتمد معيار عدد نفوس العراق عند توزيع مقاعد مجلس النواب ولم تتطرق الى ذلك وانما سكتت عنها وأن المادة (15/ثانيا”) من قانون الانتخابات المشار إليه أعلاه اعتمدت معيار عدد الناخبين المسجلين في كل محافظة حسب انتخابات (30/كانون الثاني/2005) المعتمد على نظام البطاقة التموينية لذا فليس هناك ثمة تعارض بين نص المادة (15/ثانيا”) من قانون الانتخابات رقم (16) لسنة 2005 وبين نص المادة (31/أ) من قانون إدارة الدولة للمرحلة الانتقالية بل أنها جاءت متفقة مع حكم المادة (31/أ) من قانون إدارة الدولة العراقية للمرحلة الانتقالية لذا يكون طلب وكلاء المدعية بالحكم بعدم دستورية المادة (15/ثانيا”) من قانون الانتخابات رقم (16) لسنة 2005 لا يستند على أساس قانوني سليم مما يقضي رده لذا قرر رده أما بخصوص طلبهم الوارد في عريضة الدعوى المتضمنة طلب الحكم بعدم دستورية المادة (15/ثانيا”) من قانون الانتخابات رقم (16) لسنة 2005 لمخالفتها للمادة (49) من الدستور النافذ فقد وجد أن المادة (49/أولا”) من الدستور نصت (بأنه يتكون مجلس النواب من عدد من الأعضاء بنسبة مقعد واحد لكل مائة ألف نسمة من نفوس العراق يمثلون الشعب العراقي بأكمله يتم انتخابهم بطريق الاقتراع العام السري المباشر ويراعى تمثيل سائر مكونات الشعب فيه ) وحيث أن المادة (49/أولا”) من الدستور اعتمدت معيار عدد نفوس العراق في الانتخابات بنسبة واحد لكل مائة ألف نسمة من سكان العراق بخلاف المعيار المعتمد في المادة (15/ثانيا”) من قانون الانتخابات رقم (16) لسنة 2005 حيث اعتمدت معيار عدد الناخبين المسجلين في السجلات في كل محافظة وفقا” لما ذكر آنفا” لذا فأن نص المادة (15/ثانيا”) من قانون الانتخابات أصبح متعارضا” مع نص المادة(49/أولا”) من الدستور وحيث أن المادة (13/ثانيا”) من الدستور نصت على أنه (لا يجوز سن قانون يتعارض مع هذا الدستور ويعد باطلا” كل نص يرد في دساتير الأقاليم أو أي نص قانوني آخر يتعارض معه ) وأن الفقرة (أولا”) من المادة نفسها نصت بأنه ( يعد هذا الدستور القانون الأسمى والأعلى في العراق ويكون ملزما” في أنحائه كافة وبدون استثناء ) لـذا ولما تقدم أعلاه قـررت المحكمة الحكـم بعـد دستورية المـادة (15/ثانيا”) مـن قانون الانتخابات رقـم (16) لسنة 2005 لتعارضهـا مــع أحكام المــادة (49/أولا”) مـن الدستور وللسلطة التشريعية تشريع نص جديد يكون موافقاأحكام المادة (49/أولا”) من الدستور على أن لا يمس الإجراءات التي جرت بموجبها انتخابات المجلس النيابي الحالي في ظل قانون إدارة الدولة العراقية للمرحلة الانتقالية وحيث أن كل طرف في الدعوى كسب جزءا” من الدعوى وخسر جزءا” منها لذا قررت المحكمة تحميل كل طرف المصاريف التي تكبدها وأتعاب المحاماة لوكيله . وصدر الحكم باتا” وملزما” لكافة السلطات استنادا” لأحكام المادة (13و49/أولا” و93/أولا” و94) من الدستور والمادة (4/ثانيا”) من قانون المحكمة الاتحادية العليا رقم (30) لسنة 2005 وأفهم علنا” في 9/ربيع الثاني/1428هجرية الموافق 26/4/2007 .

  3. Sam Parker said

    Yes, the court is definitely saying that population should be used for provincial allotments rather than registered voters. I suppose the reasoning is that, even though 49 says nothing about provincial allotments and even though other electoral systems could be used that didn’t involve provincial allotments, if provincial allotments ARE in fact being determined, then 49 dictates that the general principle of population rather than voter registration has to apply. Still seems like a stretch to me, but what do I know.

    The other issue is that voter registration in Iraq is passive, meaning every eligible Iraqi is automatically registered based on PDS and a few other GOI databases. I’m pretty sure this was also the case in the 2005 elections, which are the registries concerned here. Therefore, in theory, registration should track with population (assuming the ratio of eligible to ineligible voters is constant across provinces.)

    However, this database has improved over time, which was a big reason you had the big swings in particular provinces in the first reallocation, particularly Ninewa, as you mention. I think the 2.8% yearly increase is only partially growth, and is more a reflection of undercounting in the 2005 registries/databases. If that is the case, then you could say that if you used 2005 statistics, that could mean CORRECTED 2005 statistics, which would presumably address the undercounting problems. This could be a fruitful avenue for compromise.

    Regardless, we should ascend from these arcane legal and technical details and return to the practical question of seat distribution: if you get anything approaching the first reallocation in which the Sunnis are given back some of these seats, the Kurds would probably veto. Would there then be a Shia-Sunni 3/5 majority to override? Hard to say. (Sorry for the language–I’m a dyed-in-the-wool primordialist!)

    Basically the only way we’re going to get out of this is a negotiated solution to seat numbers, and then IHEC or the MOT or whoever will then come up with some legal and technical justification to make it work. It didn’t have to be this way, i.e. we had a seat distribution that was based not on power politics but on IHEC/MOT’s best technical attempt to get it right, but Hashemi had to go and veto it.

  4. Michael Hanna said

    Sam, one intersting angle based on this decision is that it would appear that even if the drafters did not have a compromise in mind, they could be forced to update those numbers to better reflect the actual total population. Using old numbers would seem, prima facie, to violate the court’s interpretation because updated numbers that better reflect population growth already exist. So even if the 2005 numbers reflect passive registration that is meant to include all eligible voters, the mere fact that better numbers exist should make those earlier voter rolls inoperative. It would also seem to mean that the previous discussion about voter rolls in Kirkuk would have ben implicated similarly if older versions were included that did not reflect actual population numbers.I think the ratio is likely independent of the type of allotment and is a stand-alone reference.

  5. Noor said

    The way I see this election shaping up is this: Allawi’s and Bolani’s list is full of Baathists and Sunnis. Maliki’s and Al-Hakim’s lists are full of Iranians and thieves. Iraq needs a change. We cannot just continue on this way. It will be the end of IRaq

  6. Sam,
    This is not “arcane legal and technical details”, to me it shows that at least one party in Iraq has integrity: The Federal Supreme Court. It is sad when only Reidar’s blog provides a sensible discussion on this important subject.

  7. Reidar Visser said

    Thanks everyone for all the interesting input on this subject. I think I find Michael’s ideas about an implicit imperative of using up-to-date statistics on the entire Iraqi population and applying them universally to be especially compelling (and I agree the federal supreme court would probably dismiss the idea of special arrangements for Kirkuk, even if I personally beg to differ with them on that). I think it might still be worth trying to establish this as a general principle before more horse-trading is attempted. For example, if pressed, the Kurds will find it really hard to explain why it was so important to use the “highly reliable” 2009 registers for defining the identity of the electorate in Kirkuk while at the same time those registers are so “highly unreliable” in all other respects and in all other places that a reversion to the 2005 data is necessary to calculate the seats!

    The problem is that the new deal is convoluted and full of “ifs” and “buts” that are hard to explain logically (2005 registers, 2.8% annual growth rate etc.). It therefore seems really hard to undo the added damage by other means than by a veto. Also I’m still a little surprised that the non-existence of the 2005 law as a constitutionally valid alternative has received very little attention in the Iraqi debate so far.

  8. Sam Parker said

    Faisal, as unfortunate as this series of events has been, I think a number of Iraqi institutions have shown their integrity in addition to the court. I would include the MOT and IHEC, who, as Reidar pointed out, do not appear to have let sectarian or political calculations affect their allotments of seats after the first law was passed.

    I think the recent problems are a function of the dominance of Kirkuk in the original debate combined with the intense time pressure of passing a law. This resulted in the Iraqi parties not paying sufficient attention to other issues and not realizing what they had agreed to until it was too late (like “buyer’s remorse”). I think this is true both for Hashemi and the refugee vote as well as the Kurds and the reapportionment of seats. The debate on these issues, which should have happened earlier, has now been shifted to the veto and revision stage of the process, where it doesn’t belong, certainly not now that we’re more than a month beyond the original deadline with even more pressure to get a law enacted. In this environment, it’s almost inevitable that the Iraqis are going to slip into power politics.

  9. Sam Parker said

    Mike, I think you’re right. The big question is how much of the reallocation in the first law was due to population growth vs. how much was due to correcting under-counting and mistakes in the 2005 voter registry/PDS. Given how disproportionate the reallocation was, I’ve got to think that much of it was due to correcting the mistakes. There’s no way population growth could vary that much across provinces, or that population could grow so quickly in the provinces that got the most extra seats, or so slowly in the provinces that got no seats.

    This then would lead one to believe that, if MOT/IHEC used CORRECTED 2005 data and applied the 2.8% yearly increase to it, the resulting figures would be much more similar to the reallocation in the first law than to the 2005 provincial seat allocations. This, of course, would be contrary to how everyone–the Iraqi parties concerned, the media, and all of us on this blog–have been interpreting it. Indeed, if this is the case, the Kurds would have had no reason to push for the formulation in the amended law, and the Sunnis will have nothing to object to in the amended law.

    So I guess we just wait until MOT/IHEC publish their new seat distributions. It is quite possible that what they release will turn this debate on its head, satisfy the Sunnis and put the Kurds back on the defensive. Or maybe it will end up somewhere in the middle. It’s too hard to say, because we’re all just speculating from afar without complete information.

  10. Sam,
    Kirkuk has been debated for a long time, to my mind many issues did not belong in the parliamentary debate if we had census. Certainly Kirkuk and the allotments would have been solved if we had census data. Power politics is the name of the game now, it is not something we Iraqis are going to slip into.
    I think if you move away from details and the immediate present then you will see less integrity, Reidar’s observation referred to an instant in time.

  11. Reidar Visser said

    One key variable in all of this is time. Can the MOT/IHEC come up with a revised distribution of seats based on total population statistics from 2005 plus the annual increment before the veto deadline expires? Today, Hashemi’s office says the amendment has not yet been received at the presidency office, which means the clock for the 10-day window for a veto is not yet ticking. The Eid al-Adha holiday weekend is coming up as well.

  12. Reidar Visser said

    Great, the MOT and the IHEC at least held a business meeting today and the IHEC has requested the relevant 2005 statistics. Hopefully the unadulterated numbers will be published before long and if all goes well they will generate a new seat distribution that addresses the concerns of the people of Mosul without alienating the Kurds completely…

  13. amagi said

    Isn’t it most significant that the election now cannot possibly be held by January 31, 2010? Doesn’t this bode extremely ill?

  14. Reidar Visser said

    I agree that is a major problem, but let’s wait and see what seat distribution the IHEC comes up with before pre-judging the outcome of the whole situation. As discussed above, if the correlation between registered voters and total population is different in different governorates (as was claimed by Tawafuq back in 2005) and the population-based seat distribution therefore produces a better result for Mosul than the voter-based distribution (which has misleadingly served as basis for much of the public debate about the amendments in Iraq so far), then the ball is in the court of Tariq al-Hashimi and he can approve the law without losing face and actually with a better than expected result for all Iraqi exiles of whatever sectarian origin.

    I’m a little worried though because Iraqi politicians just an hour ago were still discussing the issue on Iraqi TV as if the statistics of registered voters (not total population) were still relevant!

  15. Reidar Visser said

    Bad news again? An official statement from the MOT/IHEC meeting yesterday has now become available. The IHEC has requested the official statistics from 2005 and will look into them and use them “in case the amended bill is adopted [by the presidency]”.

    Does this mean they will not release the revised numbers publicly in advance of a decision by Hashemi? Will they at least let the figures be known to him informally? This seems rather crucial because it is probably the only way a second veto can be avoided.

    المفوضية العليا المستقلة للانتخابات طالبت اليوم، الاربعاء، وزارة التجارة بارسال فريق فني للتعاون معها من اجل تدقيق بيانات سجل الناخبين المحدثة، كما طالبت المفوضية بتزويدها بسجلات وزارة التجارة وفق احصائيات عام 2005 وذلك استعدادا لتدقيقها واعتمادها في حالة اقرار التعديل الأخير للقانون

  16. Reidar,
    It means that America’s friends are screwing the system and all America’s doing is trying to keep it quiet.

  17. Reidar Visser said

    Well, my hope is that Washington understands that the 2005 law has been ruled to be unconstitutional and therefore is no longer an alternative, and that the scenario of not getting Hashemi aboard and instead having the Kurds and various Shiite Islamists ramming through a third version of the law with a three fifths majority would be so destructive to the whole political process in Iraq that it should not be considered a viable option.

  18. Salah said

    اجراءات المفوضية للحد من ظاهرة التزوير لا تزال ضعيفة وغير مقنعة

    This the final killing point we like it or not.

    this report clearly said the big/wing parties playing/ controlling the Iraq Election Committee.

    منظمة: الأحزاب النافذة تهيمن على المفوضية

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