Iraq’s elections law stumbles

Nermeen Al-Mufti , Tuesday 13 Oct 2020

Discussions are continuing on Iraq’s controversial elections law, described by opponents as laying the foundations for dictatorship, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti in Baghdad

Iraq’s elections law stumbles
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All Iraqis, especially the protesters who marked their year-long protests against the government on 1 October, were waiting for the parliamentary vote on the country’s new early elections law this week, while discussing its controversial 15th article.

On 30 July, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi had announced that 6 June 2021 would be the date of early elections in Iraq in a response to the young protesters’ demands.

The Iraqi parliament then discussed the draft elections law, agreeing to all of it aside from Articles 14 and 15. At the time of writing, the parliament had still not voted through the law, although discussion began at the beginning of the week on Article 15 that sets out the number of electoral districts.

 The session stayed open even after many parliamentarians representing political blocs including the State of Law bloc of former prime minister Nuri Al-Maliki left the session, breaking the quorum. According to sources, there are four provinces refusing the proposed distribution of electoral districts, including Mosul, the second-largest province in Iraq.

The electoral districts were decided according to the women quota. There are 83 female parliamentarians, for example, in Baghdad, there are 17 female parliamentarians, so the electoral districts are 17. The geographical distribution of these 83 districts was rejected by the MPs who left the session, then issuing statements saying that the division of electoral districts in the table appended to Article 15 amounted to deciding the results of the elections in advance and according to a political agreement among certain blocs to serve their own interests.

These blocs’ voters were distributed in such a way as to build in automatic majorities, the dissenting MPs said, effectively confiscating other voters’ rights.

 Former MP Hassan Toran, a Turkmen from Kirkuk who was a member of the parliament’s legal committee between 2014 and 2018, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the electoral districts should be decided by an independent authority and not by the parliament, since too many parliamentarians pursued their own interests.

It was obvious that some of them would insist on staying on even as the protesters were demanding changes to the political blocs that have dominated Iraq over the past 17 years, he said.

“If early elections are held on the date scheduled using the same electronic-voting system used in 2018 when many violations took place and thousands of votes were rigged, nothing will be changed,” Toran said.

He added that “the biometric system has not been fully introduced, and the biometric electoral cards should contain a SIM card with ten finger prints in it to avoid vote-rigging. But the Independent Higher Electoral Commission said in 2018 that there was not enough time to fulfil this condition, which is necessary for transparent elections to take place.”

 Tariq Hard, a famous legal expert, was quoted as saying that some political blocs did not want early elections as long as there was no quorum. The adoption of the new law would require the agreement of 220 MPs, which would be impossible since no such number has ever attended parliament, he said. The Iraqi Federal Court would also need new members, he said, since it was its duty to certify the results of the early elections.

Abdel-Raheem Al-Shimmari, an MP from Mosul, was quoted as refusing the proposed distribution of electoral districts in the Nineveh province, demanding that Mosul, the capital of the province, should be one district. The way the districts were divided, he said, had been planned by certain MPs from the province to win the upcoming elections.

In Mosul, many NGOs and activists have issued a statement refusing the division of the electoral districts, since it does not give the voters the right to change their MPs. The division was a “new style of vote-rigging and distracting the voters,” they said.

One protester spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity, saying that “the parliament should enact the law on political parties before any other step to stop the external financing of some political parties. If the draft early elections law is adopted with the present electoral districts we, the protesters, will reject it during the 25 October demonstrations.”

“Those whom we are trying to kick out of the door are trying to enter again through the window,” he said. “It seems they are insisting on staying on, giving no chance to new faces and parties.”

MP Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani tweeted of the 11 October parliamentary session that “today the political forces stopped at their own interests.”

“We are waiting for the Iraqis to refuse this law [the early elections law] that finishes democracy and establishes the foundations for dictatorship.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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