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The end of the small party in iraq?

Kholoud Ramzi
According to the preliminary results announced by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), the large political blocs greatly outperformed smaller political entities in the election. This will limit…
18.03.2010  |  Baghdad

With more than 80 percent of votes counted, Allawi and Maliki have taken 87 seats each, while the Iraqi National Alliance, led by Ammar al-Hakim, has won approximately 67. The Kurdistan Alliance took 38. That is a total of 279 seats out of the 325 on offer, approximately 85 percent of the total.

Representatives of the smaller blocs believe changes to the Iraqi elections law made it much more difficult for smaller parties to establish their presence electorally. They could end up excluded from the political process for years to come.

The new law does away with the previous single electoral district system, which counted any vote in any district as a vote for the entire bloc. Each Iraqi province was considered an independent electoral district. Now, smaller parties find it much more difficult to reach the ‘electoral threshold’, which is the number of votes needed in order to gain representation in parliament.

The changes reduce the proportionality of the electoral system and votes scattered around the country, the small parties believe, would, if added up, give many unrepsented parties and movements parliamentary representation.

Smaller parties are not only concerned about the votes they miss out on due to the provincial system but also over the fact that lost votes are lost to their bigger competitors, strengthening the bigger coalitions.

According to the latest statistics announced by IHEC, most of the smaller lists did not achieve the election quota in any of the Iraqi provinces.

The People’s Union list of the Communist Party, with supporters in a number of provinces, won 2 seats in 2005. This year, however, despite winning around 3,000 votes, mainly in Babil and Najaf, they do not qualify for representation in parliament.

The same is true for the Iraq Unity List, headed by the current Minister of Interior, Jawad al-Boulani. In 2005, his list won 3 seats and was part of the United Iraqi Alliance. This year, despite polling 17,533 votes in Baghdad, as well as more elsewhere, they won no seats. The electoral threshold for Baghdad was 35,000 votes for each seat.

Similar fates befell the Iraqi Umma Party and the Ahrar Party, which won scattered votes in the central and southern provinces but not enough to qualify for parliament. The votes these parties won were effectively redistributed to parties that did gain representation.

“The amendment to the election law will only lead to more dominance of bigger blocs because it does not consider the scattered and smaller blocs votes that were not able to reach the election quota,” said Mufeed al-Jazaeri, leader of the Communist Party.

Some blocs, like the Tawafuq Front, did not miss out on representation entirely but did lose out on seats because of amendments to the electoral law. In 2005, Tawafuq was the only bloc representing Sunnis and was part of an alliance that held 44 seats after 2005. internal divisions helped to spoil Tawafuq’s chances, with many of the front’s leaders joining other lists. Observers expect Tawafuq to win no more than 20 seats across the country once all the votes are counted.

For every complaint about the new election law, there are also many positive aspects to it. The open-list system adopted in 2010 gives voters the right to select a candidate from among a list and to vote for them. This means they are not obliged to vote for an entire list when they cast their votes. This has meant that some more unpopular members of larger blocs have lost their positions.

IHEC’s results indicate that around 30 ministers and influential list members have failed to win enough votes to remain members of parliament. Among those who lost out were the current Ministers of Defence, Transport and Planning, as well as the parliamentary speaker, Iyad al-Samaraei and the Executive Director of the Accountability and Justice Commission, Amer Abdul-Jabbar.

For all the gains the larger blocs made from the multi-district system and alterations to the electoral threshold, they have also lost out due to the open-list system.

It is expected that the final elections’ results will be announced by IHEC at the end of March. A clearer picture will then be available of those who will remain major political players and of those who will be out of the game.