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Iraqi Kurdistan Parties Concerned About New Electoral Law

Minor political parties in Iraq’s Kurdistan region have expressed concerns that the new electoral system will not allow for proper representation, writes Abdel Hamid Zebari.
Electoral workers tally ballots after the end of voting in a polling station in Baghdad, July 25, 2009. Iraqi Kurds voted on Saturday in elections expected to keep President Masoud Barzani in power in Kurdistan and unlikely to allay voters' worries about corruption or end a feud with Baghdad over land and oil.   REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen (IRAQ ELECTIONS POLITICS ENERGY) - RTR261N3

The minor parties in the Iraqi Kurdistan region believe that the semi-open list electoral system works in their favor better than the proportional or closed-list electoral systems, which do not allow these parties to be properly represented in the Iraqi Kurdistan parliament.

A significant number of Kurdish parties have only one or two seats in the region’s parliament, which they won as a result of their alliance with a group of parties or with the two major parties of the region — the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by President Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Jalal Talabani.

In 2009, the parties led by Barzani and Talabani won 59 seats out of 111. The opposition Movement for Change took over 25 seats, while the Islamic Union, the Islamic Group and the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party won 12 seats. Afterward, the Socialist Party withdrew from the opposition alliance to participate in the government.

The “Freedom and Social Justice” bloc’s list won only a single seat, despite that it comprises seven leftist parties, including the Kurdistan Communist Party. The Toilers’ Party, on the other hand, has won one seat, while the Islamic movement won only two. The rest of the seats were distributed between the Turkmen, Assyrian, Syriac, Chaldean and Armenian minorities according to the quota system.

Kader Aziz, secretary of the Kurdish Future Movement and former secretary of the Toilers’ Party, said, “If elections are held pursuant to the closed-list system, the major parties will be the only beneficiaries. If, however, Iraq adopts the semi-open list electoral system — similar to that used by the federal government in Baghdad — this will serve democracy and grant minorities seats in the parliament.”

The electoral system in Kurdistan stipulates that winners are determined based on the closed-list proportional system. According to this law, the total number of valid votes obtained by all lists is calculated and then distributed according to the number of available seats. As such, the electoral denominator is calculated according to each list.

According to the proportional electoral system, the number of valid votes obtained by each list is divided by the electoral denominator in order to determine the number of seats each list has won. The number of seats given to each list equals the number obtained from that division. In the event that some seats remained vacant, they will be distributed to the lists with the biggest remainders.

On the other hand, the semi-open list electoral system — which is used by the central Iraqi government — calculates the number of valid votes each list has obtained within the electoral district and divides it by the electoral denominator in order to determine the number of seats each list has won. The seats are then distributed to the candidates according to the number of votes they obtained. The first winner will be the one with the largest number of votes, and so on. The vacant seats are then given to the lists that won a number of seats according to the number of votes they obtained.

Aziz affirms that the open-list electoral system works best for them. “The remaining seats go to minor parties, independent candidates and minorities rather than the major parties,” he added.

Ghafur Makhmouri, secretary general of the Democratic National Union of Kurdistan and a former MP, said that the scheduled date of elections is not suitable. According to him, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) should have been given at least six months to prepare.

“It is important to hold elections on time, yet the date should have been announced six months prior to elections,” he declared.

“We have prepared remarks on the electoral law. It is somewhat acceptable, and can be amended in the future so as to serve all parties,” he added.

The three opposition parties in the Kurdistan regional parliament, which currently hold 35 seats, have demanded that the electoral law be amended and that a semi-open list electoral system, as opposed to a closed-list system, be adopted.

Aziz said that “if the current law is not amended, elections will be held according to the closed-list system, which does not serve the democratic process.”

“I believe that holding elections according to a semi-closed list system is better,” he added.

Aziz reiterated the importance of the electoral system that will be adopted, in order for alliances to be decided accordingly.

“Until now, the aspects of political alliances in the upcoming elections are still blurred. If elections are held according to semi-open list system, alliances will not be needed.”

Aziz expects changes on the political map and the rise of new powers, if elections were held transparently.

“There is no doubt that major changes will come to pass in the Iraqi Kurdistan region if the process is free of fraud and electoral pressures. Yet, in every election, fraud hinders the emergence of new powers in the region.”

The political parties in the region exchange accusations of fraud to the extent that, on some occasions, the IHEC has canceled the elections. In recent elections, the IHEC has nullified some invalid ballot boxes or punished some polling stations managers over charges of fraud.

Makhmouri also expects the emergence of new political powers in the region following the elections. “There have been surprises in many elections. I believe that these elections will bring about changes and uncover new powers that will be added to the current Kurdish political scene.”

Makhmouri was able to win a parliamentary seat in 2005 through his alliance with one of the major parties of the region. In 2009, however, he ran independently and did not secure a seat.

According to Ali Kader, head of the Kurdistan electoral district, which is affiliated with the IHEC, the region will hold the elections according to the closed-list electoral system. Amendments will not be implemented and the electoral law will not be changed.

“The elections will be held according to the proportional electoral system of 2009, with the whole region serving as one electoral district,” Kader explained.

Two days ago, the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region set Sept. 21 as the official presidential and parliamentary elections date.

Abdel Hamid Zebari is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse. A reporter from Erbil who works in print journalism and radio, he has published several reports in local and world media, including Agence France-Press and Radio Free Iraq (Radio Free Europe).

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