April 2013 has been the date set for new provincial elections in Iraq. That would be four years after the previous ones, as the constitution requires. Parliament has passed a revised election law, the Election Commission is starting the process to register parties, and the United Nations said that it would help. This all ignores the fact that the Iraqi Supreme Court has ruled the voting legislation is unconstitutional. Politicians and officials however, are ignoring the Court, and going about their business like everything is fine. That means the law has to be changed or the election results will be challenged in court. That’s why it’s highly unlikely that successful elections will be held by April of next year.
In August 2012, the process was set in motion for the next set of governorate level balloting. On August 2, the parliament passed an amended version of the 2008 provincial election law. This was despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled the original bill unconstitutional. The problem is the law allows the larger parties to take votes away from smaller ones that don’t gain enough ballots to earn a seat in the governorate councils. In 2008, some of the smaller parties took this issue to court, and won, with the judges ruling the law had to be changed to accommodate their demands. This was never done, because of differences between the major parties. The legislature simply went ahead with its business in August 2012 like the court never said a thing about the law. It has thus abrogated its duties as it has done too many times since 2005 when the country regained its sovereignty.
October has witnessed further steps in the process for preparing for the vote. First, the cabinet announced April 20, 2013 as election day. The Election Commission than announced that parties could start registering. United Nations (U.N.) Special Representative to Iraq Martin Kobler welcomed the news, and told the press that the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) was willing to help the Election Commission with its work. The Sadr block in parliament also said that it was ready for the new round of balloting, claiming that it was a success that they would happen on time, accusing some of the larger parties of trying to postpone them. At the same time, 50 parliamentarians have signed a letter to the Supreme Court hoping that it will intervene, and stop the implementation of the 2012 voting law. As part of that process, on October 22, a court ruled that the law remains unconstitutional in its present form. It’s hoped that this will force the legislature to amend the bill as required by the judges. If that doesn’t happen, another lawsuit can be filed to invalidate the results as unconstitutional. Since the legislation favors the large parties there is no real drive at this time for them to change it, which is probably why nothing has happened. When that moment does come, it will bring up all of the divisions amongst the lists who argue about any major decision.
Iraq’s political parties have become more partisan in recent years. In this case, it led to inaction as the major lists failed to act on the Supreme Court’s demand to change the 2008 election law. The legislature passed it with only minor revisions, because they did not want to argue over changing the voting system. The parliament will eventually have to deal with the issue, because the small parties are still at a disadvantage, and could overturn the April 2013 election results if nothing is done. The problem as ever is that the large lists can agree upon little, so when the election law comes up for revision it will be another battle between them. The result will be late voting, which has become the norm in Iraq.
Ali, Ghassan, “Expectations postpone provincial council elections,” Radio Free Iraq, 10/23/12
Habib, Mustafa, “new law says no place for smaller political parties in iraq,” Niqash, 9/8/12
National Iraqi News Agency, “Ali al-Tamimi: Ahrar parliamentary bloc is ready to hold elections. Districts and counties,” 10/30/12
- “Council of Ministers determines the twentieth of April 2013 as the date for provincial elections,” 10/30/12
- “Electoral Commission set a date for registration and certification of political entities,” 10/30/12
- “Kobler welcomes setting date for provincial councils’ elections,” 10/31/12