Iraqi demonstrators took to the streets in October 2019 and called for early elections and a new electoral law in a bid to reduce the power of the ruling political parties. Yet, a year later, the controversial new election law is not expected to bring true democracy, stability, and coexistence among the country’s different provinces, ethnicities, and religious sects. Indeed, the ruling political elites are trying to exploit the law to reenter the parliament.
The Iraqi Council of Representatives approved the law on December 4, 2019 following the bloody series of protests known as the October Revolution, in which nearly 600 protesters were killed and thousands were injured. Iraqi militias loyal to Iran have been blamed for cracking down on civilians during the demonstrations.
The law ends voting for lists of candidates assembled by the political parties and has changed it to voting for individuals.
The law ends voting for lists of candidates assembled by the political parties and has changed it to voting for individuals. Theoretically, this would appear to be a boost in democracy as it would reduce the ruling political parties’ influence. But there are concerns that the powerful parties and militias can exploit this change by supporting prominent tribal candidates in smaller districts.
They can also back “shadow candidates,” by funding and generating media exposure for their campaigns. Consequently, truly independent candidates, and those of the smaller political parties, might not be able to compete with the “ghost” candidates, who will likely announce their affiliation to their party masters once they have deceived voters and secured their parliamentary seats.
The Iraqi parliament voted on October 10 that the electoral districts in each province will be decided according to its quota of women, hence the country has been divided over 83 electoral districts. Soon after, Iraqi protesters in Baghdad and elsewhere rejected the division of the districts and called for amending the law.
After several delays, the parliament on October 29 completed distributing the constituencies of Kirkuk province which has 12 seats. The multi-ethnic city was divided over three electoral districts, each of which includes a Kurdish, Arab, or Turkmen majority. Candidates in Kirkuk’s northern constituency, which has a Kurdish majority, will compete to win five seats. The central district, with an Arab majority, has been given four seats. While the Hawija and Dibis district, which have a Turkmen majority, will compete for three seats.
The distribution of electoral districts in the table that appended Article 15 in the election law is regarded by some lawmakers and observers as deciding the results of the elections in advance, in line with a political agreement among certain blocs.
“The dangers of the multi-districts election system . . . is that it would lead to empowering those who have arms in hands, have plenty of cash, and have tribal or ethnic support.”
“The dangers of the multi-districts election system, which divides the provinces into several districts, is that it would lead to empowering those who have arms in hands, have plenty of cash, and have tribal or ethnic support,” Tarq Harb, a veteran Iraqi law expert wrote on his Facebook page in June.
“The multi-districts formula would lead to injustice as there would be big differences in the number of votes as compared to the single district formula. In the multi-districts system, well-known figures at the levels of the nation or the provinces cannot win, because their votes will decrease in the small districts,” Harb concluded.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi has decided early parliamentary elections to be held all over Iraq in June 2021. But it is highly unlikely to happen as the country is facing deep financial, political, security, and legal crises that would cast a shadow on the political process and the upcoming elections.
The Iraqi federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government in the north are struggling to pay their millions of public sector employees, due to the collapse of crude oil prices. Oil comprises almost 90 percent of Iraq’s national revenue.
The militias are continually creating instability and chaos by targeting the US Embassy in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, refusing to obey orders from the Prime Minister, and kidnaping and assassinating activists. The attacks are clear signs that some Iraqi sides are not in agreement with holding early elections as scheduled.
Another obstacle to holding the snap election is that Iraq’s federal court, the highest legal body to verify the election results, has been unable to make any decision after two of its nine council members died. The court’s members have been appointed through consensus among Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen. Assigning new members to the court can only be done through passing a new law by the parliament.
Protesters in Baghdad, Mosul, and other southern provinces have vowed to increase their pressure on the Iraqi government.
Protesters in Baghdad, Mosul, and other southern provinces have vowed to increase their pressure on the Iraqi government, in light of the first anniversary of their revolution, on October 25.
Demonstrators in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square identified their key demands in a seven point statement, which includes: bringing the killers of the demonstrators, namely former Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, to justice; holding the previous Iraqi election commission accountable for wide-scale voter fraud, and establishing a new election commission from retired independent judges known for their honesty; amending the elections law as per the demands of the people; enacting the Iraqi law that forbids political parties to have armed militias; limiting weapons access to state security and army forces; and releasing all imprisoned demonstrators with a guarantee that the government will no longer arrest protesters.
Kadhimi, who is caught between the rock of protesters and the hard place of the Iranian-backed militias, seems to have promised to fulfill some of the protesters’ demands. On October 31, Iraqi security forces reopened Al-Jumhuriyah Bridge and removed the sit-in tents from Baghdad’s Tahrir Square – the epicenter of the bloody protest movement that started a year ago. Major General Qais al-Mohammadawi, Head of Baghdad Operations Command, was quoted by Al-Jazeera saying that the removal of the tents was done in coordination with the protesters.
However, Kadhimi is not expected to fulfill any key demands issued by the protesters, as doing so would mean the end of his government at the hands of the powerful Shiite, Kurdish, and Sunni blocs in the Iraqi parliament. According to some media reports, Iran has already initiated a political move to replace Kadhimi, President Barham Salih, and Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, as Tehran sees the three men as “allies of Saudi Arabia and the United States” and wants to replace them with three candidates of its own designation.
By putting the Iraqi election law into practice, it is expected that only conventional parties, which have armed wings, money, and media channels, will dominate the parliament; a situation that is contrary to the principles of pluralism and true democracy. The law is expected to create greater tension and instability since many votes from citizens of the different ethnic and religious groups will be lost, further undermining democracy in Iraq.