On July 22, 2019, the Iraqi Parliament ratified the First Amendment for the 2018 Provincial Election Law, Article (12). The amendment dramatically makes it harder to get seats in the provincial councils, which caused great concerns for small political parties and NOGs, as they see the amendment as a way to prevent small political parties from getting any seats in the upcoming provincial elections.
By changing the Sainte-Laguë quotient for distributing seats from (1.3) to (1.9), the required votes for winning a seat in provincial councils were hiked. New regulations will be in favor of major political entities and hurt the small parties and independent candidates. For instance, those who managed to get 1 seat in the 2013 provincial council elections will not be able to win the same seat by the same number of votes. In addition, when the number of the votes is not enough to win a seat, the votes will be distributed over the winning political parties. Therefore, this does not just marginalize smaller parties in the elections, but uses their votes in the benefit of the bigger parties.
The Sainte-Laguë method was adopted, for the first time, in 2013 Provincial Council Elections. Based on this method; first, all the casted ballots are tallied and then the parties lined up based on the votes they won from the highest to the lowest. After that, the parties’ votes will be divided by Sainte-Laguë quotient, which is 1.9, 3, 5, and 7, for this election. Then, the parties with the highest votes after the division will get all the seats. The method does not make the number of any party’s won seats reflect the percentage votes it got, but allocate seats on the outcome of the division of the original number of the votes. According to the new Iraq’s electoral Sainte-Laguë method, the division starts from 1.9, which makes it hard for the small parties to acquire because the higher the Sainte-Laguë quotient is, the less chance the small parties have to win any seats.
With the current amendment, higher number of votes are required to be counted as a winner, meaning getting the first seat. The change from 1.3 and 1.9 quotients is the way to monopolize the elections for certain political parties. The pronounced concerns show that some small political parties and independent candidates will be out of the provincial councils by the 2020 elections.
The Threat to Democracy
Iraq’s weak and questionable democracy face some shocks with each election. Weak law-enforcement institutions and false created political chaos have always threatened Iraq’s democracy despite the fact that five previous prime ministers and two presidents have been changed based on election results since 2003. The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index measures state of democracy in 167 countries. As the following graph shows, Iraq’s scores between 2006 and 2017 has never reached 5 (out of 10), which is lower than half of the required scores to be a full democracy.
Figure 1.: Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index for Iraq
Concerned by the law-amendments, 20 Iraqi NGOs issued a public announcement to condemn the legislation process that led to the First Amendment for the 2018 Provincial Election Law, Article (12). They stated that the amendment is limiting opportunity of small political parties and independent politicians to get into provincial councils. “We express our rising concerns over increasing the equation of counting votes to (1.9). We believe that this amendment is unfair and hinders the process of real representation of voters because it leads to an unjust competition between those who will try to participate in elections. It will limit capacity of small political forces and independent persons to reach provincial councils.” The NGOs stated.
The existing draft of the law is concentrating the current ruling parties’ influences in the local governments in all Iraq’s provinces, according to the NGOs, which were expressing their concern over Iraq’s electoral democracy. They also asked the Iraqi Parliament not to approve the amended draft and bring back the quotient to distribute the votes at least to (1.3).
Changing the quotient from (1.3) to (1.9) will reduce much of the Iraq’s political diversity and keep the major political parties in charge of both provincial and national governments. There will be elections but no change in political landscape. “The amendment means that the upcoming elections will bring back the existing political parties who have failed in the past 15 years,” said Ali Sahib, The Executive Director of Information Center for Research & Development (one of the NGO’s issued the public announcement).
The amendment does not leave enough space for new ideas and new people to enter the political race and, “It drives Iraq’s political process backwards and makes the provincial councils again a place for the major political blocs that are supported by regional countries rather than a place for all the political entities that represent Iraq’s diversity,” according to Aram Jamal, director of Kurdish Institute for Elections.
However, increasing the quotient of counting votes might not be that evil take-into considering the chaos Iraqi Parliament has experienced since 2005, according to Mariwan Marouf, employee of Iraqi High Electoral Commission’s office in Sulaymaniyah. He believes that for national elections, it is important to have only major political parties that can represent at least several provinces not just a province or a small specific area; but, for the provincial councils the quotient for distributing the seat should be lowered in a way that it allows small political parties to enter the councils.
“I think it is a good idea to put an adequate threshold for entering Iraqi Parliament. It is not good to have too many small political parties in parliament with few seats and just representing one province. Then, they will start shifting sides between the major parliamentarian blocks. However, for the provincial councils, the issue is different. Small political parties should have chances to get in these councils and show their performances. This is where they should start and show what they can do.” Marouf added.
Instable Electoral Laws
The amended election law is one-year-old. It was drafted and approved last year and never tested. However, the majority supported by large political parties rushed to amend it. The tendency to draft or amend the election-laws raises many questions and concerns as Iraq’s elections always face high fraud possibility. Since multiple media, NGOs, and government officials reported high-level frauds in the 2018 parliamentarian elections, the recent amendment also concerned many, presenting yet another level of political despair among small political parties, which eventually harm the political process in the country.
Before each single election, election laws are amended in Iraq, which has become a trend. “The major political parties and blocs have managed to exploit amendments and laws for their interests,” according to Aram Jamal, whose institution has observed Iraq’s elections since late 2000s. Many mainstream critics have accused the existing ruling parties for tailoring the election law based on their interest. Ibrahim al-Smed’i, activist and lawyer, on his Twitter account stated, “Everywhere on this planet, there has been stable election-laws and political parties adopt their lists and alliances according to that, but in Iraq there is always a new law for each election. The laws are also tailored based on ruling parties’ measures. Ultimately, turnout will be low and the election results infested with fraud. Here, the democracy is just a big lie by which the corrupt guys share power and make the country more corrupt.”
Election laws are actually political arrangements within legal framework, based on preserving the democratic nature of the country. However, the political parties that approve these types of amendments are not democracy-oriented. They are trying to use the law for extending their oppressive majority rule, according to Jamal.
Similar to the other Middle Eastern countries, elections in Iraq usually lead to a majority that is not committed to universal democratic values. “This majority changes and amends election laws based on their interests. I noticed this oppressive majority willingness in the last election law amendment even in Kurdistan Parliament. I think it is very necessary to prevent an oppressive majority from manipulating election laws in order to extend their tenure in both Iraqi and Kurdistan parliaments,” Jamal said.
Iraq’s elections have suffered huge amount of fraud, intimidations, and ruling parties’ games with voters-registers. Indeed, last parliamentarian elections (May 2018) raised many questions about the purpose and meaning of elections if the current ruling elite can determine the results prior to the Election Day. Therefore, the election brutally showed the limitations of Iraq’s democracy and raised concern for regression towards an oligarchic rule depending on election fraud and oppressive majoritarian rule.