What outcome can we expect for Iraq’s elections?

GPG Associate Meg Munn is an independent governance consultant working internationally on parliamentary processes, political party development, gender mainstreaming, and women’s leadership. She was a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 2007 to 2008, and Minister for Women and Equality from 2005 to 2007. She has been working with GPG on our project supporting the Iraqi Parliament in planning for the onboarding of its incoming new Members, elected in the recent elections held on 10 October. In this blog, she outlines the context and stakes of the ballot and reflects on what changes it may bring for the people of Iraq.

Even before the pandemic, the people of Iraq were not happy with their parliament and government. There were many street demonstrations around the country involving hundreds and thousands of people. The discontent was fuelled by a continuing failure of government to provide basic services, combined with a belief that those in government and parliament cared little about ordinary people. The decision to hold a ‘snap’ election was taken in late 2020, with a date first being identified for June, but later changed to 10th October.

Responding to demands of the protesters, Parliament had passed a new law reforming the electoral system. The new system moved from proportional representation to the establishment of 83 multi-member constituencies using the Single Transferable Vote. The main idea behind this was to allow for more local candidates and independent voices, meaning that there would be more and smaller political blocs, thus reducing the control of the larger political groups. A 25% quota for women was maintained, along with 9 reserved seats for religious minorities.

Despite these changes to the voting system, combined with changes to the Independent High Election Commission, the outcome of the election saw relatively little change. A further fall in turnout was observed, showing lack of confidence in the Iraqi political system. At 43%, turnout is at its lowest since the fall of Saddam Hussein; in 2005, it was almost 80%.

Although some independent candidates have been elected, and some small parties have representation, it does not look like significant changes will occur. It is yet to be seen whether those candidates choose to join some of the larger political blocs in parliament, or to stay as voices of opposition.  

While the Sadrist movement won the highest number of seats, the formation of a government will depend on negotiations between the larger political blocs. Consequently, it is not yet clear who will form the government, or who will hold the key ministerial posts. In the Kurdistan region there was also little change, with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) continuing to hold the largest number of seats, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) coming second.

International opinion is divided as to the impact of the elections on Iraq’s position in relation to its neighbours. Muqtada al-Sadr – leader of the Sadrist movement – has been critical of Iran’s influence and has championed Iraq as a sovereign country. Consequently, some commentators predict tensions with various Pro-Iranian Shia political blocs, while others believe that despite his criticisms, al-Sadr needs the support of some of them to put together a parliamentary majority.

Global Partners Governance (GPG) has been working with the Iraqi parliament for over 12 years. Our current project is funded by SIDA , the Swedish International Development Agency. Before the election, we worked with a team of parliamentary staff to develop an induction programme for newly elected Members of Parliament. Whatever the outcome of the negotiations, MPs will need to quickly develop an understanding of how to achieve political success, if they are to respond to the concerns of the Iraqi people. Continuing failure of government and parliament to deliver on the basics of life would no doubt lead to further protests and more disillusionment with the democratic process.

The early holding of the Iraq elections counted among the demands of the demonstrators during the series of youth-led protest started in October 2019. Two years on, explore the research paper by Sajad Jiyad, Müjge Küçükkeleş, and Tobias Schillings exploring the Economic Drivers of Youth Political Discontent in Iraq, and make sure to read our recent blog by GPG’s Head of Iraq Programme Adlah Alkurdi, in which she shares her memories and impressions of GPG’s work in Iraq and examines how the country can hope to address the grievances of its young people in the face of unemployment and insecurity.