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musical chairs
court changes election results - but on whose orders?

Mustafa Habib
This week the Federal Supreme Court ordered that recently elected provincial councils be reformed to accommodate more female members. The Court says it’s about the female quota. Critics say it’s so the…
12.09.2013  |  Baghdad

Earlier this week, Iraq’s highest judicial authority, the Federal Supreme Court, issued a decision demanding that 24 newly elected members on the country’s provincial councils needed to give up the seats they had just won. And they would need to give those seats to female politicians. The reason? The female quota had not been reached in those provincial councils.

Miqdad al-Sharifi, who heads the administration at the Independent High Electoral Commission, the body responsible for overseeing Iraq’s elections, told NIQASH that the Court’s decision was reasonable.

“Women should get one quarter of any party’s allocated votes so by rights one in four of a party’s sitting representatives should be female,” he explained. “It could be the system that was used, or it could be that the parties in question did not nominate enough females, but the Court is right to try and correct this matter.”

For example, if a certain party or bloc had won four seats, they should be giving one to a woman. However the problem had arisen because some parties had only won two or three seats and they only nominated males. This meant the gender quota was not fulfilled on the council as a whole.

In many of the areas affected by the Court’s decision, debates and discussions had gone on for weeks already, as to how the local councils would be formed. The provinces affected were Baghdad, Ninawa, Salahaddin, Babel, Qadisiya, Najaf and Wasit.

The Court’s decision was intended to maintain Iraqi women’s constitutional rights. However the complaints came quickly after the decision was issued. Council members who looked likely to lose their seats were already saying they would be appealing the decision. The Court’s decision making had been delayed and many of the councils had also already started work, with the newly elected officials taking up their positions. Iraq held most of its provincial elections on May 4.

Many of the provincial council members who had already started work accused the Federal Supreme Court of “deliberately causing chaos”. They’d started work on certain tasks weeks ago.

Interestingly in some cases, the decision also went the other way. There were too many women on the council and they had to be replaced by men.

For example, in the eastern Iraqi province of Wasit, the council was going to have to replace four females with men. “This decision came as a surprise to us,” council member Mahdi Ayal said. “It’s going to impact on our plans to provide services because it’s going to lead to the cancellation of some of the decisions the council had already made.”

And there will be other issues too. Most sitting council members would already have voted for the governorship and other important positions. These votes will no longer be valid, if they were not made by legally council members in the first place. So it’s possible that after weeks of wrangling on some of the councils, they may be faced with further weeks of wrangling, thanks to an influx of new members.

The Federal Supreme Court didn’t offer any clarification on the decision it issued this week. However a source at the Court said they might also issue a decision in a few days on whether provincial councils did actually have to vote again on important issues like their governorships.

Politics may also play a role here. The lengthy negotiations to form the provincial councils didn’t leave every party satisfied. And it’s possible they might use this opportunity to question the decisions – such as, perhaps, who is governor – they didn’t like.

“We see this as an opportunity to make a change in the local council because we were completely marginalized when it was being formed,” Ghaleb Kathem, a politician in Wasit, has already said. Kathem is a member of the State of Law bloc, which is headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; the party narrowly lost out to their opposition in Wasit. But it also works the other way: in Babel, opposition politicians said they would do the same and challenge the State of Law party there.

This is not the Federal Supreme Court’s first controversial ruling this past month. On Aug. 26, it announced that it had changed a previous law barring the country’s president, prime minister or parliamentary speaker from running for a third term. This effectively allowed the current Prime Minister, al-Maliki, to run for office again and it was seen by many as a sign that accusations, that the Court did whatever al-Maliki wanted, were well founded.

This latest decision is seen as more evidence of the latter. Al-Maliki’s party did well in the provincial elections but of the seven provinces that the Court says need to go back to the drawing table, four are currently not being run by al-Maliki’s party.