On September 25, Sam Parker of the United States Institute of Peace had an excellent post on the Abu Muqawama blog on Iraq’s new voting system. The new provincial election law, that was passed on September 24, changes Iraq’s election process from a closed list to an open list. The importance of Parker’s piece is that he points out that this is not going to be a truly open list system, but a hybrid proportional one that may keep the ruling parties in power.
In 2005, Iraq held elections for provincial councils and then for Iraq’s parliament. In both of those votes Iraq used a closed list system where voters picked coalitions of parties. A proportion of seats were given to the largest vote getters amongst the parties, who then picked individuals to hold office. Rather than select the most qualified, the parties often based their decisions upon family and political connections, and patronage. That meant the lists actually ran the system, and there was no individual responsibility by the politicians as the Iraqis never directly voted for any. The biggest and most well organized parties then gained the largest percentage of votes giving way to the current ruling coalition of the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SII) of the United Iraqi Alliance, the Sunni Islamic Party of the Iraqi Accordance Front, and the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of the Kurdish Coalition.
The new open list proportional system differs from the old one in many ways. The major difference between the two is that people will now be able to vote for either individuals or lists. Those votes however, will be tallied by the parties the individuals represent. Positions on the provincial council are then given proportionally to candidates of the parties that have received the most votes. Finally, the new law also includes an article setting a quota for women. 25% of all council seats are to go to female politicians. That means there will actually be two lists of candidates, one for men and one for women because the top vote getting women in each party will get a quarter of the positions regardless of how they do against the men.
The major similarity between the closed and open list is that it favors the large parties. Under the new system, the parties that gain the most votes in the province will get the most seats. That means one individual independent candidate will be running against entire parties in the province. To give a more specific example, the Sons of Iraq in the Adhamiya neighborhood of Baghdad plan to run as a political party in the upcoming elections. Their few candidates, will be competing against the entire Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council across all the Shiite areas of the capitol. Parties will no longer be able to pick the politicians to fill the seats on the council, but this new system obviously favors the large and organized parties that can run candidates across the province rather than then the new ones that are small, fragmented, lack money, and may be very local in nature. Their only hope is if they form coalitions, but because of the above conditions, that’s very unlikely. The one exception is in Anbar where the Awakening movement has formed a list to run candidates across the province. They are likely to unseat the Islamic Party that currently rules there. Overall though, the 2009 elections may actually consolidate the power of those already holding office, rather than open up the political system to news ones that’s seen as an important step for reconciliation.
Parker, Sam, “not so open,” Abu Muqawama Blog, 9/25/08
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