Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Provincial Elections Law Revisions in Iraq

Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 2 August 2012 8:43

At a time when most Iraqi politicians seem to consider the cabinet crisis to be over,  attention is increasingly turning to the next local elections, scheduled for early 2013. More and more, it is being suggested that major political reform may well end up on the back burner again, with a decision on the electoral commission composition perhaps the most prominent issue of the day (it is also on the agenda as parliament meets today).

Yesterday finally saw a vote on revisions to the provincial electoral law that originally dates back to 2008. Symptomatically, perhaps, the revisions have yet to be published on the parliament website! But at least some features are known from press reports.

The problem with the revised law is that the Iraqi supreme court has already deemed it unconstitutional, at least if press reports about the contents are true. This is so because the revised law reportedly keeps the principle of allotting surplus seats to winning parties only, using the largest remainder principle. In 2010, the supreme court, based on a request from the small communist party, specifically ruled this arrangement “undemocratic” (and therefore unconstitutional), and demanded change to a more proportional allocation formula. Apparently, this aspect – which after all was one of the main reasons there was a need to change the law in the first place – was conveniently forgotten by Iraqi politicians yesterday. In other words, once more Iraq is saddled with a law that will be unconstitutional from the get-go.

Other reported changes concern the allotment of additional minority seats for Fayli Kurds and Turkmens (the latter reportedly in Baghdad). Again, this may be indicative of a trend in Iraqi politics. The previous iteration of the law only gave true micro-minorities (Yazidis, Christians, Shabak etc.) seats in particular governorates, whereas medium-sized minorities like the Turkmens and the Fayli Kurds were left with the option of mobilizing within the framework of the ideologically defined (non-ethnic) parties. Inevitably, one gets the impression that the more Iraqis are encouraged to vote in closed ethnic constituencies, the smaller the prospect for the development of a truly national political fabric. With recent moves to expand the size of the electoral commission, it is conceivable that this trend will only continue to grow further.

Meanwhile, one interesting aspect of the decision yesterday on electoral law changes is the political dynamic. It was reportedly a deal between the two biggest coalitions, Iraqiyya and State of Law, that led to agreement. These two groups will both benefit from maintaining the current, largest-remainder for winning blocs principle regarding the “surplus” seats. For their part, Shiite parties outside Prime Minister Maliki’s bloc like Fadila and the Sadrists have already been prominent in criticizing yesterday’s parliament decision. A major elephant in the room, of course, was the disputed city of Kirkuk, which never held elections in 2009, and where the issue of ethnic quota seats remains a big problem.

This is an ironic reminder, then, about how State of Law and Iraqiyya could have got things done in parliament if their leaders could just hate each other a little less. Symptomatically, perhaps, when the two finally did vote together in parliament, it was on an issue that is likely to maximize their own powers in the crudest sense imaginable, at the expense of the smaller forces in Iraqi politics.

4 Responses to “Provincial Elections Law Revisions in Iraq”

  1. Mohammed said

    Hi Reidar:

    Does the election law stipulate any minimum number of votes that a candidate must have before receiving “party” block votes? So if somebody is running for office but is known to be an incompetent dishonest person (pretty much all of iraq’s politicians!), and he only gets 1 vote (presumably voting for himself), can he still win the seat by virtue of being a loyal party insider and receive the excess party votes?

    Besides the issues with the supreme court, it also looks like Sistani has pretty much been silent for almost a couple of years now on the issue of elections. He previously was vocal when he thought certain election procedures would be un-democratic or shady (like having closed lists).

    very disappointing.


  2. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, the personal vote is as far as I know still separate, i.e. an option for the voter to promote a favourite rather than a precondition for winning a seat. The problem is not as acute in the local elections. The problem in the parliamentary elections was the compensation seats, which enabled people like the Sadrists to promote a candidate from a governorate that was irrelevant to them (Kurdistan) with 5 personal votes (and less than the eletoral divider for the list) to a seat. That combination stinks in democratic theory. But in the provincial elections there are no compensation seats.

    Disconcertingly, parliament has failed to publish the law on its website, 4 days after it was adopted!

  3. Christian said

    “This is an ironic reminder, then, about how State of Law and Iraqiyya could have got things done in parliament if their leaders could just hate each other a little less.”

    Wonderful point. The obvious politics in the fracking elections law of all things is testament to this.

    Now how about that Oil and Gas Law any time soon? 😉

  4. Reidar Visser said

    For the record, here are the changes to the law which parliament finally published today:

    Contents are mainly as reported in the press, i.e. no changes to seat distribution key, added minority seats for Turkmens (Baghdad) and Fayli Kurds (Baghdad and Wasit). Also some qada-level minority seats, including some representation for the Sabaeans in the far south around Basra.

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