In October 2011, Iraq’s Election Commission announced that local elections were going to be postponed once again. Voting was originally supposed to happen in 2005, but have been delayed several times since then because of security concerns and political disagreements. In early 2011, Baghdad once again brought up the issue in response to popular protests. Now that those have subsided the authorities have no pressure upon them to follow through with their promises, which probably means that balloting for neighborhood and district councils will be held off indefinitely even though many of them have been in office for the last eight years.
On October 17, the Election Commission told the press that district and neighborhood voting would be delayed. The reason was because parliament went on a 60-day holiday that month, and has not passed a law to authorize the balloting. Even after that is accomplished, the Commission needs three months to prepare. That means the elections, if they ever happen, will not occur until mid-2012 at the earliest. This is not the first time parliament has put off their duties on this issue, and will probably not be the last. All kinds of arguments, and power disputes are brought up whenever there is an election in Iraq, so the easiest thing for the country’s politicians to do is nothing, and maintain the status quo.
Three times before, Baghdad has brought up local elections. In 2005, local balloting was supposed to happen after the January provincial elections. That didn’t happen because of the lack of security as the civil war was taking off. Then in January 2009, parliament said the country would cast ballots by July, but then never followed through on its promise. Finally, in early 2011, popular protests broke out in the country. Some demonstrators blamed their district and neighborhood councils for the lack of services, and called for them to be sacked. That led Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to propose local elections. In March, the regions committee in parliament held discussions with the provincial councils and the Ministry of Municipalities about new voting. Each province was supposed to conduct a detailed analysis of each of their districts and their boundaries. The regions committee then complained that Baghdad, Basra, Maysan, and Salahaddin were doing nothing. That effectively blocked any elections because Baghdad and Basra are the two largest governorates in the nation. Some local politicians were also afraid of being replaced, so they refused to cooperate. Still, in April, officials said that voting could occur by June. That was then pushed back to September, when parliamentarians claimed that the parties were arguing over how to deal with the disputed territories. The Kurds for example, were pushing for a census before any voting. That worried some Arab lawmakers who believed that a census was the first step in implementing Article 140 of the Constitution, which outlines how the disputed areas will determine whether they want to remain under central government control or be annexed by Kurdistan. The deadlock over this issue was just the latest reason for the legislature to not act. Come September, the Election Commission and the Regional Development Commission even came up with a draft election law, which was supposed to be voted on by the end of the month, but nothing happened. That leads up to the current delay, when now there are not even parliamentarians at their jobs for the next two months.
The Americans’ created Iraq’s district and neighborhood councils. Most of them were put together right after the 2003 invasion, based upon Ottoman boundaries. Others were formed during the 2007 Surge. The local politicians were either appointed by the Americans, or elected through caucuses or direct votes. This was an attempt by the U.S. military to create grassroots democracy in Iraq, based upon city and county governments back home. The councils have small budgets to pay their salaries, deliver food rations and pensions, and provide access to the ministries, but on the other hand they can’t make laws, raise money, or control development projects. The fact that the American created them is also problematic, because some high officials and politicians resent that.
This confluence of events is why Iraq has not had new local elections. There are too many arguments about how to conduct them, so parliament has refused to act. The fact that there are no more protests also means that there is no one applying outside pressure upon the authorities to make a final decision on the vote. The councils were originally created to help spread democracy throughout the country, and they have to an extent. At the same time, their hybrid status and long term in office with no popular referendum shows the limits of the new Iraq. Despite holding several elections since 2005, Iraqi politics have deadlocked. The country is notorious for delaying any important political decisions as a result, and this is just another example.
Al-Haidari, Faraj, “Electoral Commission postpones local elections,” AK News, 10/17/11
Al-Wannan, Jaafar, “Parliament to vote on bill for local elections,” AK News, 9/18/11
Al-Zubaidi, Ahmed, “Vice is likely to postpone the election districts and areas,” Radio Free Iraq, 8/21/11