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
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.
EPC | 12 Jan 2021
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