Monday, November 9, 2009

Iraq’s Parliament Finally Does Its Job – Passes Election Law

On the night of November 8, 2009, Iraq’s parliament finally passed the 2010 election law. 195 of the 175 members were present, with 141 voting for the bill. As mentioned before, the law was originally supposed to be passed on October 16, but disputes over how to conduct voting in Tamim, home to the disputed city of Kirkuk, and whether to use an open or closed list voting system, delayed the proceedings. From reports, it seems that the legislature was able to break the deadlock when the major parties, including Prime Minister Maliki’s Dawa, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Iraqi Islamic Party, and the Sadrists, decided to drop their arguments over Tamim, so that the bill could move forward. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill was also seen at the parliament on Sunday desperately trying to bring lawmakers together so that a vote could happen.

The 2010 Election Law is actually a revision of the 2005 legislation with three major changes. First, there will be open instead of closed list voting. This allows the public to choose from individuals, parties or lists, instead of just coalitions. Second, elections in Tamim will be provisional for one year as a committee goes through the voter roles looking for any irregularities. This arises from claims by Arabs and Turkmen in the province that say Kurds have moved in thousands of their people into Kirkuk to shift the demographics in their favor to assure their victory in any vote, and eventually annex it. If the committee finds a difference of 5% or more in the vote, than the election can be invalidated there. To assuage the Kurds, the law says that other provinces can also have their voter roles scrutinized at the request of more than 50 lawmakers. The Kurdish Alliance currently has 53 seats. It also dropped the proposal to give two compensatory seats each to Arabs and Turkmen in Tamim to make up for the expected Kurdish victory there. Third, the number of seats up for grabs will increase from the current 275 to 323. This is based upon statistics from the Ministry of Trade that administers the food ration system, and a requirement that there be one seat in parliament for every 100,000 people.

After that, the bill is pretty much like the 2005 one. Iraqis living overseas will be allowed to vote. There will also be quotas for women, and minorities. Christians will get one seat each in Tamim, Ninewa, Baghdad, Irbil, and Dohuk, Yazidis and Shabaks will get one seat each in Ninewa, and Mandean Christians will get one seat in Baghdad. Women are also supposed to be 25% of the politicians elected to office.

The bill now goes to the Presidential Council for final approval, which is expected shortly. The Election Commission, however, says that because of the delays, Iraq cannot hold balloting on the original date, which was January 16, 2010. Instead they have proposed January 21 as the new deadline.

It was important that the parliament put aside its differences over the future of Kirkuk to get the election bill passed. If they had not, the debate over it could’ve dragged on for months as happened with the provincial election law that was originally planned for October 2008, but got delayed until January 2009, and had the original version vetoed as a result. At the same time, the law is definitely a victory for the Kurds. They got all of their major demands met, and their expected victory in Tamim in 2010 will create more facts on the ground to support their argument that the Kurdistan Regional Government should annex Kirkuk. That will have to wait for another day however as the technical issue of holding elections is finally moving forward.


AK News, “Iraq ends impasse of elections law,” 11/9/09
- “Kirkuk included in Iraqi elections,” 11/9/09

Arraf, Jane, “Iraq passes new election law, smoothing way for January elections,” Christian Science Monitor, 11/8/09

Associated Press, “Election Law Passes In Iraq, Setting Up National Vote,” 11/8/09
- “Iraq Election Panel Seeks Jan. 21 Vote,” 11/9/09

Aswat al-Iraq, “After stormy, wrangling session, election law passed,” 11/8/09

BBC, “Iraq MPs approve election reform,” 11/8/09

Chon, Gina, “Iraq Passes Key Election Law and Prepares for January Vote,” Wall Street Journal, 11/9/09

Chulov, Martin, “Deal on Kirkuk sets stage for Iraqi elections,” Guardian, 11/8/09

CNN, “Iraqi parliament passes key voting law,” 11/8/09

Al Jazeera, “Iraqi MPs pass delayed election law,” 11/9/09

Londono, Ernesto, “Iraqi lawmakers pass election law, paving way for January vote,” Washington Post, 11/8/09

Reuters, “Iraqi lawmakers pass election law,” 11/8/09

Roads To Iraq, “Election law, a first view,” 11/9/09

Strobel, Warren, Issa, Sahar, “Iraqis pass election law crucial to U.S. withdrawal plans,” McClatchy Newspapers, 11/8/09
- “Iraqis set elections for Jan. 23 after weeks of rancor,” McClatchy Newspapers, 11/8/09

Visser, Reidar, “The Election Law Is Passed: Open Lists, Kirkuk Recognised as a Governorate with “Dubious” Registers,”, 11/8/09

Williams, Timothy and Izzi, Sa’ad, “Iraq Passes Crucial Election Law,” New York Times, 11/9/09


Jason said...

I'm confused. Is the dispute in Tamim over provincial level elections? I thought these were for national parliament? How does the dispute over Kirkuk even play in? Are they going to nullify the national elections if there is a 5% voter change in Tamim? Please explain!

Joel Wing said...

The dispute in Tamim is over the demographic changes that have happened since the 2003 invasion, and its effect on the future of Kirkuk.

During Saddam's time he carried out the Anfal campaign against the Kurds and killed and displaced thousands from Tamim and moved in Arabs and Bedouins from the south to try to change the population of the province.

After the invasion Kurds streamed back into Kirkuk, many of which were kicked out by Saddam. The Kurdish government also encouraged other Kurds to move in to change the population to create facts on the ground to support their claim to the city. Immediately after the invasion, the Kurds also began kicking out Arabs and Turkmen from the city and surrounding areas.

Now the Kurds claim that everyone who has come back are former residents and deserve to be there. Local Arabs and Turkmen say that Kurdistan has moved in far more Kurds than ever lived there, thus tipping the scales in their favor in any vote.

The Kurdish Alliance wanted to use the 2009 voter roles in the 2010 parliamentary elections because it shows the demographic changes, the local Arabs and Turkmen wanted to give Tamim special status to try to counter that and had several proposal such as using the 2004 voter roles, or getting compensatory seats to make up for the predicted Kurdish victory. Both of those got dropped in the final version of the election law. The law now says that the elections in Tamim will be provisional until a committee goes through the voter roles and if they find a 5% difference then elections will have to be re-done. I very much doubt that will happen because even if they do find anything, it'll get dragged out in an endless political debate like the Iraqi parliament is known for.

P.S. - Even after Saddam's campaign against the Kurds in Tamim they were still the largest group in Kirkuk. I just read an article from May 2003 that estimated that about 45% of Kirkuk was Kurdish, 25% Turkmen, and 30% Arab.

Joel Wing said...

The first version of this article said that Iraq's 2 million internally displaced would not be allowed to vote in the 2010 elections. I just skimmed through an English translation of the election law and it does appear there's a provision to allow the displaced to vote if they register with the Election Commission. In the 2009 provincial elections this was one of the major disputes because so many displaced either didn't register or didn't understand the rules after they did that they did not get to vote.

For more on the displaced and their problems in the 2009 vote see:

Jason said...

I'm still just as confused. I thought these were national elections with all of Iraq as a single pool of voters? What difference does it make to the results if a Kurdish voter votes in Kurdistan or Tamim, as long as he only gets to vote once? The result will be the same number of Kurdish representatives, no?

Jason said...

I suppose it would set a precedent of acknowledging the updated voter lists for FUTURE local or provincial elections, but I don't see that it will make any difference to this election.

Joel Wing said...

The seats in parliament are determined by the provinces. There will be 19 voter districts with 18 for the provinces, and the 19th for the overseas voters. Since Kurds are believed to be the majority in Tamim that means they will get the majority of seats from that province.