- After all but one of Iraq’s parliamentary elections since 2005, the country has reformed its election laws in response to public pressure. Despite the introduction of new electoral legislation, the formation of government continues to be removed from voters and often disregards actual electoral results. Instead, the process focuses on distributing senior posts, as well as the control of ‘sovereign’ and state ministries, to members of a coalition that is agreed among political parties – not necessarily those that have won the most votes.
- In 2005, following the first parliamentary elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein, a coalition of parties formed a government of national unity. This model has been adopted for successive governments. In 2010, under this model, the party with the most seats was not allowed to attempt to form a government, increasing the sense of disconnect between elections and those in power. In the two elections that followed, the formation of governments and the distribution of senior posts and ministries was based on factional entitlement and political agreement, rather than the popular vote.
- The most recent reforms in 2019 and 2020 brought in a new voting system, the single non-transferable vote (SNTV). This is effectively a first-past-the-post system in multi-seat constituencies that should automatically allocate seats to those candidates with the most votes. This system tends to favour individual candidates rather than political parties.
- The adoption of the SNTV is likely to reduce the number of seats that each party can win, making it more difficult to form a coalition as a greater number of parties will need to come together to establish a government. The government formation system itself remains unaltered by the reforms.
- In order for real reform to take place, the system that allows the distribution of posts and ministries along sectarian lines needs to be both changed and regulated. In the absence of real change, government formation in Iraq will continue to be detached from the public vote, which raises the prospect of further disruption and protest.
(*) Course Director, Institute of Continuing Education, University of Cambridge
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