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iraq’s 2014 elections
parties plan new laws that will help them win

Mustafa Habib
Currently Iraqi MPs are heatedly debating the electoral laws that will govern the next major elections in Iraq in 2014. But the same old thing is happening – bigger parties and blocs are making it up as they…
1.08.2013  |  Baghdad
Voters during Iraq\\\'s recent provincial elections. Pic: Getty
Voters during Iraq\\\'s recent provincial elections. Pic: Getty

With every election held in Iraq, new laws governing elections seem to be being drafted – and as they are, the various political parties in power jockey to have their say about the new legislation. Mostly they seem to advocate for legislative changes that will best help them during the next elections.

And the upcoming parliamentary elections planned for 2014 are no different. For three weeks now, parliament has been working on introducing changes to the 2005 parliamentary election law again. But it’s no easy task because each party involved wants the new amendments to serve their purposes.

Talking to the different MPs from different blocs, it becomes clear that many of them have contradictory desires and demands with regard to any legislative amendments and that it will be hard for anyone to reach any kind of satisfactory compromise.

“The political blocs have presented their proposals and we’ve collected them all in order to facilitate discussions,” MP Mohammed Kayani, the head of the Regions and Provinces Committee, told NIQASH. However even Kayani admitted it was going to be very difficult to reach any kind of agreement because the larger blocs wanted the law changed to allow them to win more seats or at the very least, to preserve the status quo.

The main points of disagreement include the following topics: candidates with dual nationalities, the number of constituencies, the method used to distribute seats between constituencies, how votes were to be counted, special quotas and which date would be used for special voting by security forces who’d have to supervise elections on the actual day.

For example, the Shiite-Muslim-dominated State of Law bloc, led by current Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, doesn’t want the parliamentary elections to be decided by the use of a mathematical formula called the Sainte-Laguë formula. This system stops larger parties from gobbling up the votes smaller parties have won, if the smaller parties haven’t won enough votes to pass a certain threshold. The Sainte-Laguë formula was applied to the Iraqi provincial elections held this year and it saw al-Maliki’s own party, the Dawa party, lose a lot of power.

Meanwhile another large Shiite Muslim-dominated party, the Sadrist movement, which is often allied with the State of Law bloc, does support the use of the Sainte-Laguë formula. The method gives small parties and individual candidates a chance to win seats and it prevents large parties from monopolizing power, MP Jawad al-Jiburi from the Sadrist bloc told NIQASH.

At the same time, the bloc of Iraqi Kurdish MPs wants the country to use an open list system, which is defined as a system of proportional representation “where voters have at least some influence on the order in which a party\'s candidates are elected,” Wikipedia explains. The Iraqi Kurdish bloc also wants Iraq considered one electoral territory instead of multiple districts.

However major opposition party, Iraqiya, which is dominated by Sunni Muslim interests, doesn’t want one district; they want the country divided into 18 electoral districts distributed throughout the various provinces.

During Iraq’s first elections, post-Saddam Hussein, the closed list system was approved – and this was despite negative aspects such as the fact that it is mostly the big political parties who benefit from this system.

After 2005, in the face of international and national criticism, a new election law was passed which combined the closed and open list systems. It also divided Iraq into 18 electoral districts as opposed to just one.

However even this law caused controversy because, for instance, it marginalized smaller parties. And while the quota system gave Iraqi minorities – like the Shabak, Turkmen and Christians – guaranteed seats and representation, it also gave more power to larger parties at the expense of smaller ones.

Many political analysts believe the positions that many of Iraq’s larger parties are taking are mainly due to the fact that they don’t want to share the spoils of political power they’ve been benefitting from over the past decade.

Various quotas are also being disputed. Religious and ethnic minorities are automatically allocated a certain number of seats. But now, for example, MPs of Yazidi ethnicity are demanding that their allocation rise from one seat to five. And a number of female MPs are also asking for an increase in the quota of seats given to females. Currently it sits at 25 percent and many of them think it should be 50 percent.

Another of the controversial topics centres on candidates who hold two nationalities. It’s been suggested that candidates need to give up any non-Iraqi passport before running for office.

Despite the fact that he actually has dual nationality himself, MP Haider al-Mulla of the opposition Iraqiya bloc, says he supports this proposal. “Whereas the State of Law bloc strongly opposes this move,” al-Mulla announced at a press conference last week. “The reason? Around 70 percent of their members hold other nationalities.”

All of the debate around all of these tricky topics is not new to Iraqis observing their nation’s electoral processes. Many of them consider it a negative thing and several independent MPs, who preferred to make their statements anonymously, said they felt that democracy in Iraq was endangered by the lack of permanent electoral laws. Civil society and human rights organisations have expressed similar concerns.

“This really needs to end,” says human rights activist Hanaa Edward, head of the human rights Al Amal (Hope) organization. “Before elections, our political parties just pass electoral laws that suit them in the same way that a person goes to a tailor to get a suit made. It’s just not acceptable.”

Faraj al-Haydari, head of Iraq\'s all important Independent High Electoral Commission, which oversees Iraqi elections, concedes that election laws have been, and are being, drafted in ways that accord to the desires of Iraq’s bigger parties and political blocs. “But IHEC cannot interfere in the work of Parliament,” al-Haydari says. “It can only give advice, clarify theories and recommend internationally-approved mechanisms in democratic systems.”

Critics of the current process around electoral legislation say there are only two ways they see this situation changing. Firstly, they think that civil society organisations and other interested parties should be putting pressure on political elites with regard to this issue. And secondly they believe that Iraqi voters need to be more educated about this topic, with a series of community awareness campaigns.