Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on July 31 called for an early general election to be held in June 2021, around a year earlier than it would normally take place. In a televised speech, al-Kadhimi said, “June 6, 2021 has been fixed as the date for the next legislative elections.” He added, “Everything will be done to protect and ensure the success of these polls.”
The announcement comes at a time when Iraq has been in political crisis since the eruption of protests last year, which led Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign.
It is believed that other dates were proposed for the early elections too. In a July 23 meeting between the so-called “Three Presidencies” — the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker of the Council of Representatives — and the leaders of the parliamentary blocs, three dates were reportedly proposed for the elections in April, June, and October 2021.
Al-Kadhimi took office in May in the aftermath of long popular protests started in October 2019 and following a political consensus. The Prime Minister promised to deliver on protesters’ key demands. One of these demands was holding early general elections. So the announcement can be seen as an attempt by al-Kadhimi to uphold the pledge he made, in order to reassure the activists.
The United Nations praised the Iraqi Prime Minister’s announcement saying it would promote “greater stability and democracy.” Yet, arguably, there are a series of challenges that need to be tackled for the early elections to be held. The election date must still be ratified by the Council of Representatives, Iraq’s parliament.
The election date must still be ratified by the Council of Representatives, Iraq’s parliament.
Iraqi President Barham Salih urged parliament on August 4, to authorize a date for an early election, stressing how necessary it is for political reform. “The President calls on the House of Representatives to approve amendments to the election law as soon as possible and to send it to the Presidency for approval and implementation,” a statement by Salih’s office said.
On August 1, the Speaker of the Council of Representatives, Mohammed al-Halbousi, called for the early general election to be held earlier.
“We call for an earlier time for elections, and we also call for an urgent and open session with the participation of the Three Presidencies and the political parties in order to proceed with constitutional procedures in accordance with Article 64 of the Constitution,” al-Halbousi said on Twitter. This indicates how it is likely that there could be no consensus amongst the Iraqi figures and political parties over when the elections should be held.
In addition, for some time, the Federal Supreme Court — which ratifies the results of the Council of Representatives’ general elections — has been unable to meet because it lacks a quorum: one of its nine judges, Farouk al-Sami, has been referred to retirement and cannot be replaced due to a dispute within the judiciary over the procedure of appointing Supreme Court judges. This raises questions about whether any early general election can be held before the quorum is completed.
It is unclear under what electoral law the early general election will be held.
It is also unclear under what electoral law the early general election will be held. Last year, the parliament passed a new electoral law proposed by Abdul Mahdi’s government, but the section which details the voting procedures and constituency boundaries has not been finalized.
Moreover, the dissolution of parliament is required for such elections to be held. According to Iraq’s constitution, parliament can dissolve itself with the consent of the absolute majority of its members, or upon the request of the prime minister and with the approval of the president.
Yet as Omar Sattar writes: “Naturally, the prime minister would not take such a step unless he believes that his government would be able to organize the elections on the specified date.” Thus, it remains to be seen if the absolute majority of parliamentarians would endorse such a proposal.
The Independent High Electoral Commission has declared its readiness for early elections as long as certain demands are met.
The Independent High Electoral Commission, in turn, has declared its readiness for early elections as long as certain demands are met, including passing a new electoral law and allocating a budget for the vote. “To hold a free and fair election, devoid of rigging, under the auspices of the United Nations and international organizations, international observers and relevant Iraqi organizations, on the date announced by the prime minister, the Independent High Electoral Commission announces it is ready,” read a statement from the commission.
If these fundamental issues are not addressed, it will not be possible for the government to hold an early general election on al-Kadhimi’s proposed date.
“For the election to be really representative of the true and real Iraqi public opinion, it must be done with a just electoral law, none-aligned electoral board, total transparency, careful and total monitoring by international agencies, and disarmament of all militias as well as preventing them from meddling in the electoral process,” Abdulwahab al-Qassab, visiting fellow at Arab Center Washington DC, told Inside Arabia. “I don’t think that one year is enough to provide all the [aforementioned] factors.”