Iraq passes electoral reforms but deadlock remains

  • 24 Dec 2019

The new law changes each of the country's 18 provinces into several electoral districts, with one legislator elected per 100,000 people.

Pictures of people who were killed during ongoing anti-government protests are seen in Baghdad, Iraq, December 24, 2019 ( Reuters )

Iraq's parliament approved on Tuesday a new electoral law, a key demand of protesters to make elections fairer, but political deadlock is still holding up the selection of an interim prime minister, threatening renewed unrest.

Mass protests have gripped Iraq since October 1 and protesters, most of them young, are demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty. More than 450 people have been killed.

"In the name of Iraq, and in the name of the Iraqi people, in the name of the martyrs, in the name of all those who sacrificed, in the name of the displaced, the law has been approved," Council of Representatives Speaker Mohammed al Halbousi said after the vote.

The new law changes each of the country's 18 provinces into several electoral districts, with one legislator elected per 100,000 people.

It also prevents parties from running on unified lists, which in the past have helped them easily sweep all the seats in a specific province. Instead, seats will go to whoever gets the most votes in the electoral districts.

"This decision is the decision of the people; the people who were patient here in Tahrir Square.

They made their decision known, which is for elections to be individual 100 percent," said protester Dawood Salman, 58, speaking from the central Baghdad square that has become the uprising's epicentre.

Protesters have demanded not just a new electoral law, but also the removal of the entire ruling elite seen as enriching itself off the state and serving foreign powers – above all Iran – as many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education, and an independent premier with no party affiliation.

"Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, this is the first step towards meeting our demands.

We now want the actualisation of the other demands: to have a president, prime minister, and speaker who all do not belong to any party," said protester Hashim Mohammed.

"We need a true Iraqi, someone honest and honourable"

Since Saddam Hussein was toppled in a 2003 US-led invasion, power has been shared along ethno-sectarian lines among parties from Iraq's largest three communities.

The most powerful post, that of prime minister is held by a Shia Arab, the speaker of parliament by a Sunni Arab and the presidency by a Kurd.

"We call on all politicians who came after 2003 to leave government and hand over power. All politicians with loyalties to Iran or to Gulf countries need to go. We need a true Iraqi, someone honest and honourable," said Mohammed. "They dragged Iraq into rock bottom, those traitors who came after 2003."

Infighting between political parties who are clinging on to power has fuelled the crisis and threatens to cause more unrest as protesters lose patience with a deadlock in parliament that is holding up the selection of an interim prime minister.

Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi resigned last month under pressure from the street demonstrations, but has remained in office in a caretaker capacity.

The constitutional deadline to name a replacement expired on Thursday.

Two blocs of political parties, one backed by Iran and the other populist and anti-Iranian, are closely involved in backroom deals to agree on a candidate.

Any agreement on thorny political issues looks unlikely. The protests have shaken the country out of two years of relative calm following the defeat of Daesh insurgents.