Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ayatollah Sistani’s Influence On The Open/Closed List Voting System Debate In Iraq

Iraq’s parliament has until October 15, 2009 to come up with a new election law for the January 2010 vote. There are two major issues holding up the bill. First, is the issue of how balloting will take place in Tamim province, home of the disputed city of Kirkuk. The second is whether the country will use an open or closed list voting system. In 2005, Iraq used a closed list system where voters could only pick from lists, which are coalitions, and parties. That gave more control to party bosses who got to choose the politicians that would actually take power. In the January 2009 provincial elections, Iraq used an open list, where people could select either lists or individual candidates. That gave more influence to the voters.

When debate first began on what kind of system was to be adopted for 2010, reports said that many politicians were pushing for a closed list. Those included members of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), and the two ruling Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was an early opponent.

The entire discussion changed at the beginning of October 2009 when a false story was spread about Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the voting system. On October 5, it was reported that Ayatollah Sistani would urge a boycott of the 2010 election if parliament did not adopt an open list. That story was quickly denied by Sistani’s office, and Maliki was accused of spreading the rumor since so many of his opponents were for the closed list. The report had its affect however, as almost all of Iraq’s leading politicians and parties have now publicly come out for the open list. On October 6, the Sadrists said they would hold a walk out if parliament held a vote on a closed list. The next day, Vice Presidents Adel Abd Mahdi of the Supreme Council and Tariq al-Hashemi, formerly of the Iraqi Islamic Party, held a joint press conference where they too said they supported an open list. The day after that, the head of the SIIC, Ammar al-Hakim, also came out against the closed list. Finally, on October 10, the Constitution Part of Interior Minister Jawad Bolani, held a demonstration in Basra in support of Sistani’s call for an open list.

If Maliki’s office did spread the false rumor about Sistani and a boycott, then it served its purpose. Most of the major Arab leaders in Iraq are now talking about an open list system. It’s yet to be seen whether this is all just rhetoric or a real sea change in Iraqi politics. The truth will be quickly revealed because if parliament doesn’t pass a new election bill by October 15, Iraq will revert back to the old 2005 legislation, which uses a closed list.

SOURCES

Alsumaria, “Sadrists firmly reject closed list system,” 10/7/09
- “Sistani aide: Closed list affects democracy,” 10/7/09

Aswat al-Iraq, “Elections draft law completed without agreeing on Kirkuk – MP,” 7/15/09
- “Iraqi Constitutional Party demonstrates for open-slate election,” 10/10/09
- “National blocs want to adopt closed-list system during elections,” 7/3/09
- “Sadrists threaten to walk out of session if vote on closed-list system is held,” 10/6/09
- “SIIC chief asserts adopting open-list system in elections,” 10/8/09
- “Sistani denies boycotting elections in case adopting close-list system,” 10/5/09
- “Vice presidents stress importance of adopting open-list system,” 10/7/09

Gwertzman, Bernard, “Iraq at Crossroads Amid U.S. Disengagement,” Council on Foreign Relations, 6/30/09

Pollack, Kenneth, “The Battle for Baghdad,” The National Interest, September/October 2009

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Election Commission Urges Vote Law’s Approval,” 10/7/09

Roads To Iraq, “Election conflict puts Sistani in the middle,” 10/6/09

Synovitz, Ron, “Kurdish-Arab Power Struggle Leads To Calls For Iraq Census Delay,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 8/30/09

Zahra, Hassan Abdul, “Iraq’s top Shiite cleric may urge vote boycott,” Agence France Presse, 10/5/09

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