Eleven months after the election law was approved, the Iraqi Parliament managed at the end of October 2020 to finally agree on the electoral districts’ formula in the general election law, in preparation for the early elections scheduled for June 2021.

This paper sheds light on the amendment of the articles on the form of the electoral districts in the law, the positions of the various political and popular actors thereon, and their impact on the expected results of the upcoming elections.

A law under the pressure of protests

The Iraqi Council of Representatives (CoR) (Parliament) approved a new election law in December 2019, under the influence of the popular protests that had erupted in early October 2019, demanding reform and political change. Some Shiite actors sought to win over the angry street at the time, enacting the law amidst major Kurdish and Sunni objections. The most prominent changes in the law were the increase in the number of electoral constituencies, making them based on districts (the country’s second administrative unit after the governorate) instead of the governorates, the adoption of the individual candidacy system so that the winner would be the candidate who gets most of the votes, and the renouncement of the Saint Laguë method of distributing the votes of the electorate among the candidates.

However, Parliament did not send the law to the President of the Republic for ratification as required by the Constitution. The truth of the matter is that the large Shiite blocs were not in a hurry to hold the early elections and were not serious about holding them. Indeed, they were trying to calm the street and buy time. However, after realising that the current Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi poses a threat to their interests and those of Iran, they became in a hurry to hold the early elections, and made concessions to the Kurdish and Sunni blocs to pass the law in the hope of forming a new government after the upcoming elections comprising the actors close to the Popular Mobilisation [Committee] (PMC).

At the end of October 2020, the parliamentary blocs finished amending the law, and agreed on a new formula for the form of the districts within the framework of Article 15 of the law. They agreed that the number of constituencies in each governorate would be equal to the number of the women quotas mandated by the Constitution, which amounts to merging some districts and dealing with the individual candidacy and list systems. Accordingly, there would be 83 unequal electoral districts across the country, meaning that each district would have a different number of seats compared to the other districts.

Under the new amendment, Baghdad Governorate would be divided into 17 electoral districts, Nineveh Governorate into 8 districts, Basra Governorate into 6 districts, Dhi Qar and Sulaymaniyah Governorates into 5 districts, Anbar, Babil, Erbil and Diyala Governorates into four districts each, and Najaf, Karbala, Saladin, Diwaniyah, Wasit, Maysan, Dohuk and Kirkuk Governorates into three districts each, and Muthanna Governorate into two districts.

The districts were divided on the basis of geographical considerations in all the governorates, except for the mixed governorates of Nineveh and Kirkuk. In the former, the division depended on a combination of ethno-religious and geographical considerations, while in the latter, the division was largely dominated by the ethnic criterion whereby the districts were divided into one with a Kurdish majority, another with an Arab majority, and a third with a Turkmen majority.

Attitudes towards the law amendment

  1. The protest squares in the country’s centre and south had welcomed the law to some extent when it was passed in December 2019, although they were demanding that the number of districts be equal to the number of seats in Parliament (329 constituencies). Now, after the number of districts has been reduced, according to the medium format, some of the figures participating in the protests expressed their opposition to the amendment, considering that it would contribute to the maintenance of the sectarian blocs within Parliament and reduce the opportunities for the independents.
  2. The Sairoun (Marching Towards Reform) Bloc, which is affiliated with the Sadrist Movement, considered that the law would lead to an increase in regional representation and give equal opportunities to both independents and electoral blocs, according to Ali al-Lami, a Member of Parliament (MP) for the Bloc.
  3. The leader of the National Coalition (Al-Wataniya) Ayad Allawi suggested that the law would strengthen the divisions in the country. He said in a statement that "Parliament without a majority has tailored a new election law according to the measurements of some ruling blocs and parties", warning that "this would negatively affect the electoral climate and lead to the failure of the elections, similar to the failures of the 2018 and earlier elections, thus harming the complex and extremely dangerous situation in Iraq".
  4. The head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) Bloc MP Vian Sabri expressed her satisfaction with the method by which the electoral districts were divided, especially in Kirkuk Governorate, and said that "the Kurds have secured the best formula for the distribution of the electoral districts in Kirkuk Governorate, ensuring the voice of the Kurds, especially in the eastern regions of the city, which house the majority of the Kurdish towns, by allocating 5 seats thereto, and also in the downtown areas with mixed neighborhoods, by allocating 4 seats thereto, and only 3 seats to the southern regions of the province that have an Arab majority.
  5. Alia Nassif, an MP for the Dawlat al-Qanun (State of Law) Coalition, led by Nouri al-Maliki, said that "an overview of the distribution of seats in the new election law suggests that Iraq is in the process of being partitioned, and that the distribution of seats indicates that they are organised, whether inadvertently or intentionally, thus indicating a hidden project for partition".
  6. Abd al-Amir al-Mayahi, an MP for the Badr parliamentary bloc, led by Hadi al-Amiri, underlined that the new election law will produce a parliament that does not meet the aspirations of the Iraqi street, while noting that it “divides the country and raises concerns”. This opinion contradicts that of the rest of the blocs aligned with the Badr Bloc within the Al-Fateh (Conquest) Coalition, which include the PMC commanders and leaders, as they believe that reducing the number of the electoral districts gives them greater opportunities to control voters, and perhaps even the polling stations in the cities under their influence.
  7. Most of the Sunni blocs welcomed the new election law, especially the Iraqi Forces’ Union, led by Parliament Speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi, while some small actors, such as the Qarar (Resolution) Coalition, led by Khamis al-Khanjar, and the Jamahir (Masses) Bloc, led by Ahmad al-Jubouri (Abu Mazen), are apprehensive that the multiple districts would be exploited by the major powers that are in control of the local governments, such as Halbousi’s Alliance.

The effect of the multiple districts

It is clear from the positions of the political actors on the amended election law, and specifically on the form of the multiple districts (merging districts to form constituencies equivalent to the number of the women seats in Parliament) that the actors in control of the street, such as the Shiite militias and the forces associated with them, the Kurdish parties that run the security services in the Kurdistan Region, such as the KDP, and the political actors in control of the Sunni local governments, such as the Iraqi Forces Alliance, led by Muhammad al-Halbousi, are the ones who welcome the multiple constituencies, or at least are not very much apprehensive about the political changes that may be brought about by the election law. This is because they believe that it is possible to control the constituencies and influence the electorate, taking advantage of their leaders’ influence and popularity that would overwhelm the popularity of the other actors whose constituents are dispersed between the governorates and districts and do not constitute a majority in the small constituencies. Besides, the welcoming actors have the largest number of local candidates, such as the Sadrist Movement’s grassroots and the militia leaders.

As for the other political actors, such as the State of Law, the Wataniya and the Qarar Alliance that depend on the popularity of their leaders alone and do not have many popular leaders or candidates, they are unable to keep pace with the rest of the influential actors on the street. However, the law in its current form is better for them compared to the smaller constituencies, considering that constituencies that cover a number of districts that may house millions of voters, as is expected in Baghdad, Basra and Najaf, would allow them to form electoral alliances, but would be worse for them compared to adopting the governorate as an electoral district.

Despite the demands by the actors representing the protest squares for smaller electoral districts, that is a candidate for each constituency, the militia control and the unrestrained weapons would not allow them to benefit from the advantage of the multiple districts, driving them to rely instead on individual candidacy only. The districts in their current form, which can be described as medium-sized, may be more favourable for the actors and trends of the popular protest, at least for the current stage, pending the creation of the favourable security climate. They can now organise electoral lists in the districts in which they believe they enjoy a popular majority that is supportive of the October revolution or protests, as in city centres and areas that are not monopolised by a particular actor.

The most important aspect about the new law is that it prevents the transfer of the votes of candidates to the list leader and vice versa, as in the previous law which collects the votes of the list and distributes them in sequence according to a fixed electoral denominator (the Saint Laguë method). Victory would now belong to the candidate who gets the highest number of votes that would not be divided among the rest of the list members. This means that every winner of a parliamentary seat will necessarily reach the "electoral threshold", which is the number necessary to obtain a seat in each electoral district. Therefore, the individual candidacy system will overwhelm the party candidacy even within the same list or electoral bloc.

Expectations

  • An increase in the number of Sunni seats in the next parliament, compared to previous parliaments, due to the presence of Sunni-majority districts in the new law in Baghdad, Basra and even Dhi Qar and Babil, whose votes used to be lost in past sessions due to the method with which the votes were distributed. For example, Nouri al-Maliki, who in Baghdad needed only 25,000 votes to get a parliamentary seat, used to get 500,000 votes when the capital was a constituency. He would then distribute the surplus votes he got to the rest of the candidates on his list. The same would apply to the rest of the major Shiite blocs. This leads to the exhaustion of the Baghdad seats (72 seats) before the votes of the sectarian or nationalist minorities are counted. Now, Sunni areas in Baghdad, such as Taji, Abu Ghraib, Al-Adhamiya and others, would be independent constituencies, in which candidates from the Sunni sect would likely win. The same situation may apply to the Kurdish lists in the regions and villages with Kurdish majority, such as Khanaqin, Mandali, Badra, Jassan and Tuz Khurmatu in the governorates of Saladin, Diyala and Wasit.
  • A decline in the representation in the next parliament of the actors that do not control a specific region or governorate, and whose advocates are distributed among the country’s cities, such as the Wataniya, the State of law and the Nasr (Victory) Coalition that may enter into alliances under large titles to avoid the expected decline in their electoral fortunes.
  • The seats held by the Shiites in the current parliament would be shared between militia lists and representatives of the protest squares if the elections are held in accordance with the new law. This provides an opportunity for a decline in the representation of the pro-Iranian actors, if the national actors representing the October demonstrations are prudent in acting and dealing with the new law, have the necessary material capabilities, and enter the elections under large and clear slogans to prevent the dispersion of their advocates among the candidates.
  • After the election law is ratified by the President of the Republic, the Shiite blocs will seek to pass the Federal Court law, finish the structuring of the Electoral Commission, and do everything possible to hold the early elections to get rid of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. However, they may encounter other obstacles that would prevent the elections from taking place, including the deteriorating security situation and arms chaos, the lack of sufficient financial allocations to finance the electoral process, and most important of all, obtaining a parliamentary majority to dissolve Parliament and hold the elections. The Constitution regulates the early elections process in two ways in Article 64: the first is by dissolving “[t]he Council of Representatives [Parliament] . . . by an absolute majority of the number of its members . . . upon the request of one-third of its members”; and the second “upon the request of . . . the Prime Minister with the consent of the President of the Republic. The Council shall not be dissolved during the period in which the Prime Minister is being questioned”. After the dissolution, the call for holding the general elections would ensue within a period not exceeding sixty days from the date of the dissolution. Some influential blocs may not find it in their interest to dissolve Parliament before the constitutional date in 2022. The Sunni actors are likely to demand the return of the displaced first, and the withdrawal of the PMC from Sunni cities before the date of the elections is set, or the Kurdish blocs may bargain over some interests and money. The Shiite actors that expect to lose the early elections may consider that they need not vote for the dissolution of Parliament.

Latest Briefs