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The Iraqi Parliament Passes the Provincial Elections Law

By Reidar Visser (www.historiae.org)

22 July 2008

The law on the Iraqi provincial elections was passed by the Iraqi parliament on 22 July. The adopted text largely reflects earlier drafts that have been circulating for weeks and months, with certain important amendments and clarifications:

• The hybrid system of lists and individual candidacies (single-person lists) is maintained. The adoption of this system means that the focus to some extent shifts from parties to politicians: voters can vote for a party list, or a specific person on a party list, or an individual candidate on a single-person list. However, the counting rules with no transferability mechanisms for “redundant votes” (i.e. surplus votes that accrue when a single-person list has reached the necessary number of votes required to secure election) still create a certain bias towards the established parties, because only multi-person lists will accumulate “party scores” that can give them additional shares of the last remaining seats.

• The female quota remains purely aspirational and has been subjugated to the increased focus on individual candidacies: there is a requirement to the parties about nominating a certain proportion of women high on the lists, but this “enhanced visibility” notwithstanding many voters will vote for individuals on lists rather than the lists themselves. A murky paragraph authorising the electoral commission to take undefined steps to secure a 25 per cent female representation after the elections appears to have been removed.

• The ban on the use of religious symbols survives in a slightly more general version: the use of pictures or propaganda for persons who themselves are not candidates is disallowed. Hence any party that wishes an ayatollah to grace its elections poster needs to convince the cleric in question about the virtues of serving as a councillor in one of the Iraqi governorates. Also the ban on the use of places of worship for election campaigning purposes is upheld, alongside an unchanged and still highly hypocritical "ban" on the participation of parties who maintain militias.

• The explicit mention of the 1 October 2008 deadline has been removed, and options for dealing with delays have been expressly mentioned: the existing councils will in that case continue to serve. The requirement of conducting the elections in a single day remains.

• With this piece of legislation, the formal “Lebanonisation” of Iraq has reached an unprecedented magnitude. Elections for Kirkuk have been postponed, but a power-sharing formula for the interim period has been envisaged in which key positions will be distributed between Kurds, Turkmens, Arabs and Christians in accordance with a percentage formula of 32-32-32-4. Security forces from “the centre and the south” of Iraq will take charge of Kirkuk militarily in this period, while a committee of politicians will have until the end of the year to explore solutions to the conflict over the city. In a conundrum to Iraqi and Arab nationalists, it seems as if the insistence on the hated logic of quotas (muhasasa) in this case has been the most effective means of countering Kurdish nationalist ambitions.

• In a similar feast of ad hoc ethno-religious cake-sharing, the “final provisions” of the law allocate a certain number of “minority” seats in certain parts of Iraq, without specifying the procedures for their election. In Baghdad there will be three seats, presumably mostly for Christians; in Mosul 2 seats, specified for Yazidis and the Shabak respectively; in the Kurdish areas two seats in each governorate (likely to go to Christians), and in Basra one seat which will probably go to a Chaldean or a Sabaean.

In many ways, the current version of the law for the provincial elections serves to underline the growing confidence of a group of centralist Shiite politicians around Nuri al-Maliki. It challenges the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) with the ban on the use of religious places of worship in elections campaign, while at the same time does not give the Kurds everything they want regarding Kirkuk – Kurdish representatives ultimately abstained from the final vote, where some 127 out of 140 members of parliament reportedly supported the law. Interestingly, complaints about the voting procedure for the law itself prompted criticism from Kurds and UIA independent Khalid al-Atiyya alike, suggesting that the presidential veto may once more come into play in Iraqi politics in relation to this piece of legislation.

Updated 23 July with a subscriber exclusive: Kirkuk Clauses Were Supported by Bloc of Opposition Parties [published online for non-subscribers on 7 August]:


Information about exact voting patterns and the debate surrounding the elections law is now beginning to filter through. It has emerged that the arrangements for Kirkuk to a large extent were supported by the bloc of opposition parties which had demanded the 1 October deadline for the elections in the first place – a cross-sectarian alliance of Shiite Islamists (Sadrists, Fadila, some Daawa branches, independents), Sunni Islamists, secularists and minority representatives. Those who supported the Kurds over Kirkuk were reportedly ISCI but also some United Iraqi Alliance independents. Thus, even if many aspects of the adopted law clearly carry the hallmarks of the more self-confident Nuri al-Maliki, and recent additions to his government of certain ministers who claim to represent “Sunni interests” notwithstanding, it seems that on the Kirkuk issue the government was actually overwhelmed by a cross-sectarian opposition less inclined to make compromises with the Kurds. With the numerous reports from Iraq about Nuri al-Maliki being in the ascendancy as some kind of strongman with good ties to the security forces, this clear indication of parliamentary weakness as well as the obvious contradiction between his declared objectives as an Iraqi centralist and his choice of alliance partners (the Kurds and ISCI) certainly need to be taken into account as well. In fact, this is the second time in 2008 that the Kurdish-ISCI axis appears to have lost a parliamentary battle, once more forcing them to consider the presidential veto as a last resort.


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