Wikileaks: Iraq lists and Iranian influence

The following excerpt from one of the State Department cables in the Iraqi election of 2010 is interesting for its discussion of list type.

It is important to note that Iran’s power in Iraq, although extensive, is not without limitations. The IRIG’s greatest political roadblock remains the domineering authority and religious credibility embodied in Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Despite his Iranian heritage, Sistani is Iraq’s most revered Shia religious (and political) authority. A critic of Iran’s “Velayet-e-Faqih” (rule of the jurisprudent) system of theocratic governance, Sistani’s abstemious (aka Quietest school) approach to Shia politics has kept him well above the political fray while at the same time ensuring him significant impact on those rare occasions when he pronounces on politics. For example, Sistani’s public support for an open list ballot was instrumental in prompting ISCI, Sadrist Trend, Maliki’s State of Law, and other Shia parties to follow suit, despite Tehran’s preference for a closed list. Domestic political realities will continue to force Shia political parties like ISCI, Dawa Qwill continue to force Shia political parties like ISCI, Dawa and Sadr Trend, with close historic ties to Iran, to balance between support for a broader Iraqi-Shia agenda, as championed by Sistani, and the alternative, championed by Iran, that would subordinate Iraqi interests to Iran’s broader objectives (septel).

Via Wikileaks. Emphasis added.

Iraqi open lists

In a post I had missed till now, Reidar Visser makes clear that the Iraqi electoral system used for the general elections earlier this year was indeed open list. The key point is in bold (my emphasis):

It cannot be stressed too much that the Iraqi electoral system is a hybrid of a closed list system and an open-list system. The method for counting the votes was left unspecified in the amended electoral law last autumn, and in its regulation on the subject, the election commission (IHEC) opted for a quite radical approach as far as the weight of open-list (tick an individual on the list) versus closed-list usage (no preference expressed) of the ballot was concerned: The final ordering of the candidates is decided only by the number of personal votes obtained, with no regard to original position on the list. In democratic theory, this could be said to be somewhat problematic, since one might well argue that a list vote with no candidate preferences indicated is not only a vote for the political entity in question, but also for the particular ordering of candidates on the list, as per the preset ranking decided by the leadership. (If the order on the list counted for nothing, the candidates might as well have been listed alphabetically, or according to age, or whatever.) Arguably, then, a more balanced approach to the hybrid of open and closed list would be to count each unmarked ballot as a vote for the top candidate on the list, transferring the vote to the next highest when the first has achieved the number required to win a seat and so on. This is of course all utterly academic as long as IHEC has ruled the way it has, but it does explain why well-organised radical challenges from below are quite easy under the Iraqi system (as seen first and foremost in the case of the Sadrists), and also why minor differences can have an enormous impact when the general number of personal votes is low, not least with respect to the women’s quota (where the struggle is often between candidates with votes in the 3-digit range).

So, just after stressing that the list type is a “hybrid” he goes on to stress that it is in fact an open list. Not hybrid at all.

The point he makes here about implications for “democratic theory” of an open list system in which a vote cast only for the list, without a candidate preference vote, is entirely valid. I have made the same point myself in published work. It is ambiguous, and perhaps unclear to many voters, what the meaning of a list vote without a preference vote is, when applied to the intra-party dimension of representation. Did the voter who abstained from participation in the ranking of candidates really mean to delegate the ranking decision to other voters, who did cast preference votes? Or did such a voter intend to accept the party leadership’s preferred ranking?

Notwithstanding this theoretical ambiguity, there is nothing unusual about this in practice. Open-list systems, in which the preference vote is optional, and in which a list-only vote has no bearing on the order of candidates are found in Brazil, Peru, Switzerland, and formerly in Italy.

Of course, a real hybrid of open and closed lists would be one in which a list vote counted for a pre-established party order, while a preference vote potentially counted for changing that order. These are usually termed “flexible” list systems (or sometimes “semi-open” or “semi-closed”), and are found in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and some other countries.

Other variants also exist: open lists in which the voter must cast a preference vote (Chile, Finland, Poland). There are even flexible lists where the voter must cast a preference vote notwithstanding that a pre-ordered party ranking usually prevails (e.g.Netherlands).

The rest of Visser’s post offers some detail about the extent to which intra-party groups, such as the Sadrists,were successful in elevating their candidates via preference voting. In an earlier post, Visser had detailed “the Sadrist watershed.”

Government-formation in Iraq formally begins

The constitutional process for forming a government in Iraq has now formally begun–more than eight months after the elections.

Incumbent PM Nouri Maliki has been invited by President* Jalal Talabani to form a government. He now has a 30-day period in which to present a cabinet to parliament.

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* Or, more accurately, chairman of the three-person Presidency council. {See comments}

Iraq party lists (yes, again)

In the past, we have had discussions here about the type of lists used in Iraqi elections. All are in agreement that the elections of 2005 were by closed list, and that more recent elections were not. However, there has been some uncertainty about just which form of non-closed lists have been used.

In various previous discussions (click “Iraq” in the “planted in” line to see them), some of my valued commenters have linked to items from the Iraqi electoral commission that purport to show that the 2009 provincial elections were by flexible list, and that this year’s national assembly elections were by open lists.* Unfortunately, all those links now simply take one to the main Arabic page of the commission (and clicking there on the English link also does not seem to allow one to find archived articles).

I wonder if anyone saved these original articles, or has any other reliable sources** that clearly indicate the list format in these elections.

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* The distinction that I am making is that under flexible lists, “preference” votes cast for candidates on a party’s list affect the order of election only for those candidates who receive some legally stipulated quota of preference votes. Otherwise, a pre-set party list order prevails. Under open lists, on the other hand, preference votes alone determine the order in which candidates are elected from the list, there being no pre-set list order with any affect on candidate ranking.

**In my experience, many writers, even by political scientists, will say “open” even when the lists in question in some country actually are flexible. (For that matter, sometimes that will refer to flexible lists as though they are closed. Flexible lists are kind of an orphan category, notwithstanding that they are used in so many European PR systems!)

Is Iraq’s electoral system really open-list PR?

Even though we thought we had settled the question, maybe not.

An acquaintance who voted out-of-country in the election of Baghdad’s Council of Representatives delegation (M=68, he said) told me tonight that he had cast his vote for a list. He did not use his option to cast any preference vote. He also said that, in order to cast a preference vote, one first had to vote for a list. Then one could express a candidate preference using information from a directory of candidates-by-party. (I do not know any more about how that worked because I do not read Arabic, but Pauline at FairVote offers a specimen ballot.) All this suggests a flexible-list system like the one we assumed had applied to the governorate (i.e. provincial) elections in January 2009. The question then becomes (once again) what quota of preference votes a candidate needs for his/her position on his/her party’s list to change.

If only it were that simple. My acquaintance moreover told me that one had the option to rank up to all of the candidates on a party’s list. Having been an amateur STV junkie for many years, I can imagine ways in which ranking would factor into a flexible-list system. But what’s the use in speculating when the basic rules are so difficult to nail down? And here I thought I had painstakingly tracked down the important details.

What can be said of all this uncertainty? Assuming my acquaintance spoke truth…

First, I am conditionally skeptical of cross-national work treating institutional details like these as variables. I had put a lot of time into once-and-for-all answering the open/flexible question, drawing on resources unavailable even to most academics, and here came a real-life Iraqi voter with reasons for doubt. If my acquaintance spoke truth, I can only wonder about the extent to which measurement error (i.e. incorrectly coding a polity’s electoral rules) makes suspect what we think we have learned about institutions’ causes and effects.

Second, I am conditionally convinced of the unreliability of ostensibly reliable sources. The one I edit may not be exempt from this charge, despite my obsessive propensity – as my beleaguered assistant can attest – for filling in every missing value. The same goes for information put online (yet no longer available in some cases) by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq and the Independent High Electoral Commission… assuming, of course, that my acquaintance spoke truth.

Third, my belief in the investigative efficiency of talking to people is reinforced. Where Google searches yield quantity, a few personal conversations yield quality. Conversations allow one to ask for clarification and to pose follow-up questions. Assuming my acquaintance spoke truth, I learned more about the present, national Iraqi electoral system in five minutes than I did in days of scouring the Internet.

On a more technical note, my acquaintance said he was disappointed that the system had not provided for panachage.

Iraq election-law deal

(Updated, 8 Dec. and again on 9 Dec.)

Reuters India reports:

a last-minute deal between parliamentarians on Sunday night, 10 minutes before the expiry of a deadline for [Sunni member of Presidency Council] Hashemi to cast a second veto, rescued the election law and set the ballot back on track.

The agreement restored some seats to Sunni areas and also placated Kurdish complaints by giving their semi-autonomous northern provinces a handful more seats.

Where do those seats come from? Part of the deal is for a 325-seat parliament, rather than 275 (reported in Washington Post).

A BBC Arabic item from 7 Dec. (dubbed into English via Mosaic) provided some further detail. Of the 325 seats, 310 will be elected from the governatorates (provinces), serving as electoral districts. Forty one of these seats are assigned to the Kurdish districts (their parties had demanded 50). Of the 15 national-tier seats, 5 are set aside for Christians and 3 for other minorities (including the Yazidi). The other 7 were unspecified in the BBC report; the original controversy that triggered the veto was partly over the number of seats for Iraqis abroad. At that time, there were going to be 8 such seats (out of 275), so this deal would seem to be worse on that dimension. However, there are more seats in the Sunni-majority districts, which seems to have been the real issue all along.*

The Reuters India item reported that the election date would likely to be 27 February, rather than January as previously planned. However, BBC Radio is reporting today (8 Dec.) that it will be some time in early March.

Click “Iraq” in the “planted in” line for some discussion of the previous bills and the veto.

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* Updates: Reidar Visser states that Iraqis abroad will vote in their home governorate (district). In that case, they do not need a special national constituency, as contemplated in the earlier draft. This is a much saner solution. He also notes that it is not actually clear what the finally agreed assembly size is. District magnitudes would range from about 6 to 72.

Iraq’s election law and veto, again

The parliament of Iraq has passed an amended electoral law for the elections scheduled in January, AFP reports:

MPs on Monday opted to increase each province’s seat allocation by 2.8 percent over the number allotted in the last general election in 2005. As a result, Kurdish provinces will see increases in their number of seats compared with the number allotted in the bill which Hashemi vetoed, but Sunni provinces will have fewer seats. Shiite provinces will also broadly have fewer seats but retain a substantial majority in parliament.

The bill will certainly face a veto again.

If a second veto is used, lawmakers can overturn it by passing any election law with a 60 percent majority. An alliance of Shiite and Kurdish MPs would surpass that threshold with around 30 votes to spare in the 275-seat assembly.

The council–any one of whose members may exercise a veto–has 15 days to approve or reject the bill. Parliament is in recess till 8 December, due to the Eid festival.

The previous planting on the Iraq election law and veto was on 19 November.

The Iraqi electoral law and the veto

Reidar Visser has an appropriately entitled post on the “Constitutional Disintegration” in Iraq, in the wake of the veto issued by the Sunni member of the presidency council. Regarding the provisions that were vetoed:

Hashemi protests the low quota of seats assigned for out-of-country voting, aka the “national” and compensatory” seats that will total 5% of the total seats less a minority quota of 8 seats. The specific figure is set not by the law but by the Iraqi elections commission (IHEC) based on ministry of trade statistics, and in practice has recently been stipulated to 8 seats. The constitutional requirement is one parliamentary deputy per 100,000 Iraqis; accordingly, unless one really believes there are less than 800,000 Iraqis abroad, it is very hard to disagree with Hashemi. The minuscule quota of “national” and “compensatory” seats” that is left after the deduction of minority seats is probably the most explicit violation of the constitution that can be found in the amended electoral law, and as such the law should be eminently vetoable.

So, the decision by “vice president” (but really a co-equal member of the three-person presidency council, as I will come back to) to veto the bill is clearly admissible constitutionally. The bigger questions come from both the attempt to veto only part of the bill, and from how the parliament and cabinet have responded.

Visser again:

This is an attempt at rejecting only a single article of the amendment to the election law. Through instructing the parliament to revisit only a limited section of the bill, Hashemi is entering unchartered constitutional territory…

Many constitutions contain provisions for partial vetoes, which can have one of two effects (depending on specific constitutional provisions): either (1) leading to the promulgation of the rest of the bill, with the vetoed parts separated from it and sent back for reconsideration by the legislature, or (2) requiring that none of the bill be promulgated until after the legislature has chosen between its original bill and the bill as amended by the executive. The latter is common in many Latin American systems, and appears to be what Hashemi is trying to do. In fact, this morning I saw (on Mosaic via Link TV, originally from Al Arabiya) an interview with the chairman of the presidency council (or “the president”), Jalal Talabani, who was trying to put a good spin on his colleague’s decision. He said that the council had “voted” to “approve” the bill, and that preparations for the elections should go forward, but that the council was requesting that the parliament revisit the objectionable provision (on Iraqis abroad) in the near future. If this is what the presidency council was attempting, it would be a case of the first type of partial veto, as I sketched above. Only one small problem: the Iraqi constitution has no provision for this sort of veto.

Then it was parliament’s turn to respond. Visser again:

If the attempt by Hashemi to restrict the veto to a single article thus seems somewhat problematic, reactions to the veto by Iraqi parliamentarians have been even more worrying and serve to reinforce the impression of constitutional frailty in today’s Iraq. In a strongly worded letter, the second speaker of the parliament, Khalid al-Atiyya, a Maliki [the PM] ally, today dismisses the veto for being unconstitutional “because it does not refer to a violation of a single clause of the constitution or to the by-law of the parliament”.

As Visser goes on to say, there is no requirement of the presidency council to stipulate constitutional objections in issuing a veto. (It is, after all, an executive veto, not a judicial one.) As for the politics of the veto, it should not be surprising. Sunnis are over-represented among Iraqis who have fled during the war and occupation–their regions of the country have been the most violent. In fact, it was precisely to protect Sunni interests that Iraq’s three-person presidency was created. As I noted at the time ( September, 2005), the last-minute change from a unitary to a tripartite presidency was a “nontrivial concession to the Sunni negotiators.”* Now its minority-veto provision has been exercised. (I am not sure if this is the first time or not, but it certainly is highly consequential.)

Vetoes by the presidential council can be overturned by a three-fifths majority (one of the rare cases in a parliamentary democracy of more than 50%+1 being required to override a veto).

As for the electoral law itself, an earlier post by Visser provides a table of the magnitudes of each district (governorate) under the new law. The district magnitudes will be higher this time, partly because the assembly size is increased (from 275 to 323) and partly because of the reduction in the number of seats that are to be allocated in a national compensatory tier.

The increased district magnitudes (which now range from 7 to 68 rather than 5 to 59, as in 2005) would imply greater proportionality at the district (governorate) level. However, the sharp reduction in national compensation seats (only 8, given that 8 other national seats area reserved for various ethnic minorities and Iraqis abroad) implies that the overall system will be less proportional. The average magnitude now (ignoring the “compensation and minority seats”) would be 17.5, whereas the effective magnitude was previously 275 (12.8 at the governorate level, but party shares in parliament determined as if one national district).

Visser further notes that, at the district level, “surplus seats are also distributed to winning lists only.” I do not know the formula to be used to allocate seats, but from this brief reference to surplus seats, I assume it is some form of quota and largest remainders, but that the district threshold for earning a seat is a full quota (which would be 1/M if it is simple quota or 1/(M+1) if it is Hagenbach-Bishoff). But I am only speculating here.**

And then there is the question of list type. Supposedly, the lists are open. However, I have yet to see with certainty that preference votes alone determine the ranking of lists–the definition of open lists. I understand this to be the case in the new law, but I still have some doubts (simply because many times open and “flexible” lists are confused).

A move to open lists would be consistent with the near-elimination of national compensatory seats, given that it is hard and unusual (though not impossible) to design an open-list system with preference votes also applying for the compensation seats. (Typically compensation seats are distributed via closed lists.) Assuming the district-level allocations are indeed now by open lists, I do not know how the few remaining compensatory seats are to be allocated to candidates, but they are such a small part of the total system that it barely alters its logic.

Of course, all this could be moot if the entire debate over the electoral law–which got quite heated–is reopened and the election is delayed, on account of the veto by the presidency council.

It is also worth noting that if the law ultimately goes ahead with its basic form intact, Iraq will have used, in just over a five-year period, each of the three main list types: closed lists (for the original constitutional assembly–in a single national district–and for the first parliamentary election, in governorate districts with national compensation), flexible lists (for the governorate assembly elections), and now open lists (in governorates with minimal national compensation) in 2010. Iraq has become quite a laboratory for list PR!

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* The constitution talks about “the president” throughout, but one of the late amendments that brought Sunni actors along was a transitory passage that states that wherever the constitution says “president” it refers to the “presidency council.”

** It seems that a full quota of the national vote was not required in 2005, as a simple quota would have been 0.36%, yet there were parties with less than this represented in 2005. So, if I have correctly understood that this time there will be a threshold of a quota to obtain a seat, that is yet another reduction in proportionality. However, I would not make too much of either the near-elimination of compensatory seats or the threshold, as quota (whether simple or Hagenbach-Bishoff) and largest remainders (for quota-earning lists) with an average magnitude of 17.5 is still a quite highly proportional system.

Iraq’s election law finally passed after protests; Sadrists hold primary

At last the Iraqi parliament has passed a new election law. Aljazeera reports:

The election law provides for an open candidate list, allowing voters to cast their ballot for an individual rather than a party. It also sets aside five seats in parliament for minorities.

Of course, that voters cast their ballot for an individual candidate does not settle the matter of whether it is an open list or a flexible list. The further bit of information needed is whether preference votes (i.e. those cast for candidates within lists) are the sole determinant of who is elected from the list, and in what order. If they are, the list is “open.” If, on the other hand, there is a default list order, provided by the party, that prevails except in the case of some candidates obtaining some quota of preference votes, then the list is “flexible.”

The delays over passage of the law also centered around the Kirkuk dispute.

MPs voted into law the Kurdish proposal that current lists [of eligible voters] be used in next year’s polls and that Kirkuk be kept as one electoral constituency.

A number of Arab and Turkmen politicians, who wanted the 2004 or 2005 records to be used and Kirkuk to be split into two constituencies, boycotted Sunday’s vote.

It is not clear to me what the substance of this dispute over electoral-district lines is, given that the “constituencies” in question here are multi-seat districts with proportional representation (and, unless it has been changed since last time, nationwide proportional compensation). Apparently the electoral districts issue is taken as symbolic of how the eventual status of Kirkuk will be resolved with respect to the its inclusion or not within the Kurdistan federal unit.

The dispute over list type became rather passionate. There were even mass protests over the list type, AFP reported.

Earlier in October, protests were organized in response to:

a call by Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani for MPs to adopt an open process for the parliamentary elections in January.

In central Baghdad, several hundred protesters gathered at Firdos Square, carrying Iraqi flags and placards reading “Closed Lists Strengthen Sectarianism and Racism” and in support of Sistani’s stance.

(The idea of people actually taking to the streets over list type warms the heart of this scholar of the “intra-party dimension of representation”!)

Meanwhile CSM reported that one of the Shiite parties held a primary:

On Friday [16 October], supporters of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr voted directly for candidates in a primary poll ahead of national elections, calling it a milestone in the democratic process. The vote is believed by Iraqi officials to be the first time that choosing candidates for any party outside Iraqi Kurdistan has been placed in the hands of ordinary Iraqis. […]

Inside the main Sadr office in Sadr City, hundreds of men and a few women lined up to cast their ballots. Lists posted behind the ballot boxes displayed numbers and names of the 301 men and 25 women who were running.

Voters dipped their index fingers in a jar of purple ink before putting their balance in a transparent box. Officials from Iraq’s Higher Electoral Commission helped organize the vote. Reflecting Sadr’s appeal to disaffected young people, the voting age was set at 15 – three years younger than the required age for participation in national elections. […]

Candidates were not required to be members of the Sadr Party but had to be at least 35 years old, college educated, and never have worked with the Americans.

It is, however, not a primary to select the entire list for Sadr’s party: “Sadr himself will choose which of the existing members of parliament should run for reelection, with the remainder of the candidates selected in the voting on Friday, says a Sadr official.”

It remains unclear whether the general election can be held on the scheduled date of 16 January, or will have to be delayed.

Kurdistan opposition advances

In Iraq’s Kurdish region, the opposition apparently has made substantial gains in elections over the weekend, AFP reports:

A joint list uniting Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani* won 60 percent of ballots cast in the parliamentary vote, Hussein said.

The two parties have dominated Iraqi Kurdish politics for half a century, first as rebels and then as the region’s effective rulers in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war over Saddam Hussein’s invasion of neighbouring Kuwait.

The results would give the KDP-PUK list around 55 seats in the 111-seat parliament, down from 78 seats in the outgoing assembly elected in 2005.

A senior Goran [Change, the opposition alliance] official told AFP that his party would win 28 seats…

Something there does not quite add up. One the one hand, the ruling alliance is said to have won 60% of the votes. On the other hand, it is said to have won just short of half the seats.

The regional president, Massud Barzani, was reelected with 70% of the vote.

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* Although always reported as “President,” technically he is the chairman of the three-person presidency council.

Iraqi provincial results overview

Juan Cole has a terrific rundown of the results, province-by-province.

He makes clear what most of the media reports are not recognizing: the dominant feature of the outcome was utter fragmentation.

While much of the media narrative seems to be about how well PM Maliki’s Dawa party performed, it is all relative. Only in Baghdad and Basra did it win more than 35% and in several others, while it may have won a plurality, the pro-Maliki votes amount to less than 20%.

As Cole notes, Dawa is a fundamentalist party, but one that is more committed to a strong central government than its main rival for the votes of Shiites, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI).* These two parties were components of the same pre-electoral alliance in the national elections.

In Baghdad, the pro-Maliki list won 38% and no other party won 9%. In Muthanna, Dawa barely “won,” with 10.9% to ISCI’s 9.3%. The only province with any list close to a majority is Ninevah (Sunni majority) where l-Hadba’ won 48.4% and the Kurdistan Alliance came a distant second with 25.5%.The fragmentation really must be seen in the actual numbers to be believed, so head on over to Cole’s post.

Like many a developing country emerging from civil conflict, voters were more likely to vote for parties tied to sources of patronage and security than not. Thus it is hardly unusual that the PM’s supporters did relatively well–especially as the alliance label they ran under was called Enforcement of Law. Maybe the surprise is how poorly they did, by absolute standards, coming in nowhere even near a majority.

In most provinces, multiparty coalitions will be needed in order to form a government, so while Enforcement of Law will be the largest in many places, it will have to bargain extensively with all sorts of other political forces. (Not that that’s a bad thing, but it sure is not the “big win” I keep hearing about.)

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*Surprise! Dawa is the party that currently heads the central government.

Iraqi provincial elections: sample ballot

While I still try to figure out just what kind of list was used for the elections to Iraq’s recent provincial elections, I finally went looking for a sample ballot. It was not hard to find. (See p. 9 of the “Polling and Counting Procedures Annex” linked at the bottom of one of the electoral commission pages.)

Here is an image of the sample ballot (and you might want to see the larger image in a new window.)

iraq_prov_2009_sample_ballot

With the obvious caveat that I don’t read Arabic, this ballot design certainly appears typical of preferential list ballots elsewhere. The section on the left would appear to be for marking a candidate’s number, for voters who choose to cast a preference vote. However, because each list would repeat the same set of numbers for its candidates, the ballot is validly marked only if the voter also checks a party (or “political entity,” in the terminology of the electoral law) in one of the other three columns.

(On the non-validity of ballots with an otherwise valid candidate vote but no list vote, see page 30 of the English language PDF on “Polling and Counting Procedures,” at the same web page.)

Of course, this still does not resolve how preference votes are counted at the intraparty level: whether the lists are unranked other than by preference votes (an open list) or whether they are ranked and candidates move up the ranking only if they obtain a certain threshold of preference votes (a so-called felxible list). Some things I have read give me the impression it was the latter. I am still trying to find out.

Annex 12 of the first-noted PDF might contain some clues. It appears to show how one calculates a formula for determining a candidate’s final ranking, which would imply flexible list. Someone who reads Arabic would be of great help here!

Will Iraq’s provincial elections turn on national politics? Or candidate images?

While tomorrow’s election in Iraq is for provincial councils, and while it is by open-list PR (we think), one Iraqi observer thinks the outcome may turn on voters’ evaluations of the performance of national parties. Others expect the new electoral system to give voters a chance to shake up the political class, due to the candidate-based voting.

For the first view, the LA Times notes:

[Sheik Fatih] Ghitaa [director of the Al Thaqalayn Center for Strategic Studies in Baghdad] said the parties are confusing voters all over the country by attaching photos of some of Iraq’s most well-recognized politicians, such as Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, instead of making a greater effort to educate them about the local candidates.

I am not so sure that this should be seen as a bad thing. Besides, the candidates are presumably undertaking their own person campaigns; educating voters about their own candidates need not be an activity undertaken by parties under open list PR. (Parties might even have good reason to stay out of the intraparty contests and just let the candidates and their campaigns sort them out.) In fact, Ghitaa suggests that there is personal campaigning going on, but does not like that either:

Ghitaa said his polling has also shown that most voters, particularly those in central and southern Iraq, are seeking personal benefits.

“They’re asking, ‘What can this candidate do for me?’ ” Ghitaa said. “We don’t see patriotic or principled behavior — just beneficial behavior, which is an unfortunate thing that’s now happening in Iraq.”

Again, this does not seem like such a terrible thing (or consistent with Ghitaa’s first concern). If democracy is going to work, voters will need to feel it works for them.

Developing the candidate-based campaign theme further, a post by Jack at Democratic Piece has two interesting quotations from a recent Financial Times article.

First, the campaign features:

colourful posters that highlight both the different faces of Iraqi society and the battle hotting up for tomorrow’s provincial elections. Alongside images of austere looking bearded men in clerical robes are headshots of women in brightly coloured veils and businessmen in western-style suits, each vying for a seat in Basra’s regional government.

And:

For war-weary Iraqis, fed up with corruption, mismanagement, killing and kidnappings, the polls offer a glimmer of hope that a new generation of politicians may emerge, with a focus on people’s needs rather than the corrupt and sectarian politics that have dominated in the post-Saddam era.

As Jack notes, this combination of a choice of a wider range of candidates and the potential for turnover would be an anticipated result of the open-list system. Assuming it is indeed open list–something we have discussed here before (see links below). Jack also comments that, “Going by a photo of a ballot (slide number five) at Financial Times, it doesn’t look like either” open-list PR or SNTV.

I hope someone who reads Arabic might be able to help us out here. With the caveat that being able to read Arabic would be helpful, I’ll note that the pictured ballot looks like it contains only party names and symbols (plus perhaps some independent candidates). If that is right, then it can’t be SNTV, but it still could be an open list: many open-list ballots contain one area for checking a party name and another for optionally writing in the name or number of a candidate from the chosen party. Is that what this is?

Anyway, it seems to me that the possibility of voting (for parties) based on evaluations of national performance and voting for candidates who might be offering something “different” are compatible outcomes of the electoral reform. And encouraging for ongoing democratic development in the country.

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See previous discussions of Iraq’s electoral law for these elections:

So, Iraq’s provincial electoral system is open list? (or maybe not quite?)

What will the system be for Iraq’s provincial elections?