Iraq electoral system change–again

The parliament of Iraq on Monday changed the country’s electoral system again, scrapping a law that had been enacted in 2020 (see Arab News). As is far too typical of journalistic accounts of electoral systems, the details mentioned make it hard to suss out just what has been adopted–or even what it is replacing. I had a similar struggle with the reports of the previous change.

As best I could tell about the 2020 changes, they adopted single non-transferable vote (SNTV). Preceding elections since the US-led invasion had been held under various versions of list PR. The Arab News article refers to the just-adopted law as one that “replaces a first past the post system with proportional representation.” One substantial problem with that statement is that the previous system was not FPTP. The article also says the new act of parliament “removes 83 electoral districts and creates 18 seats, one for each of Iraq’s provinces.” The reference to 83 districts in the old system is consistent with my understanding of the previous system’s having had a mean district magnitude of around four (329 seats divided among 83 districts would mean an average magnitude M=3.96 seats per district). Further, I assume the just quoted statement is meant to say 18 districts in the new system. If each province is a district, it would seem that the new system would be a fairly conventional districted PR system in which parties win seats proportionally to votes within each province. (But, of course, there could be other complexities that the news article fails to note.)

Further, the Arab News article states that this recent vote in parliament “revives” the previous law that was in 2018. That was indeed a PR system (open list, I think). Independent candidates who were elected under the SNTV system at the 2021 election–there were 70 of them–are decrying this change. Of course, SNTV is very friendly to independents (the winners are the top M in the district, regardless of whatever party affiliation, if any, they have), whereas list PR is not. As a political scientist whose speciality is electoral systems, I’d say this is precisely the problem with SNTV and the advantage of list PR. Policy-making for a society is a collective enterprise, and parties are the vehicles for collective action and representation in a democracy.

So, while there may be legitimate complaints raised by opponents of the change/reversion, it seems like it should be a positive change overall.

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