by Hayder Al-Khafaji
Political parties are amongst the most important institutions in a democracy, to the extent that many experts believe that discussing a political system in the absence of effective and strong parties is meaningless. In this regard, the demise of Saddam’s Baathist regime paved the way for sweeping reforms to be incorporated into the electoral law, in which much attention was paid to political parties and extensive efforts were made to normalise participation in parliamentary elections. Over the course of the next decade and a half, these efforts encouraged the participation of newly formed political organisations. Amongst those taking advantage of the changes are several groups who were active in the October 2019 protests, such as the National Home Party, the Iraqi Union for Labour and Rights Party, the ‘I’m Going to Take My Rights’ movement and the Tishreen Front, to name but a few.
The changes introduced by the new electoral law allows voters to opt for individual candidates (i.e. the appearance on the list of individual candidates, rather than having to vote for political blocs). The new law also guaranteed an increase in the number of seats allocated to women in parliament to at least 83 (which is at least 25% of the total number of parliamentary members).
However, the lack of a strong alliance between the independent candidates and the lack of support for capable candidates, combined with poor coordination and lack of coherence among the newly established political parties, may very well lead to a possible boycott of the elections by the protest groups, the independent parties and even by some of those already in power, as previously happened with the Sadrist movement, the Iraqi Communist Party and the ‘Iraqi Platform’ led by former prime minister Ayad Allawi. All this could collectively plunge Iraqi society into violent protests in the post-election period.
As we approach the elections, currently scheduled for October 2021, with the ongoing negotiations to form coalitions and to map potential alliances and blocs, it already looks as if the results will not be very different from previous elections, like those of 2018.
Of course, this does not mean that there will be a repeat of the same old political architecture, nor would it appear that future voters will follow the direction of previous electorates, nor that a fundamental change in the formulation of the Iraqi political landscape is on the cards. But what can be said with absolute certainty is that the election results will not lead to a sea-change in parliament, with new politicians predominating as the demonstrators would wish to see. Firstly, this is because the political forces that emerged from the street protests are not as effective as they should be; secondly, some of these forces are already sceptical about the free and transparent conduct of the upcoming elections and intend to boycott them.
These factors will undoubtedly undermine the confidence people have in the parties contesting the elections, as well as the next government. Therefore, it is likely popular protests will continue in the post-election period in pursuit of economic, political and social solutions to ongoing problems.
It is, however, possible to achieve reform and to change Iraq’s political structure; to break free from the vicious cycle of failure and despondency; to prevent the country from slipping into a cycle of violence and counter-violence; to enable voters to produce effective governments and efficient inclusive institutions, if these steps are followed:
Step One – Amending Law No. 36 of 2015 on Political Parties
Addressing the problem of the lack of comprehensive national representation for political parties. Currently, there is a proposal to amend Chapter Four, Article (11/One/A) by adding a clause to require 2000 members of parliament to hail from each Iraqi governorate, instead of the existing text which requires 2000 members from all governorates. This would help to make the parties more representative of all citizens, regardless of religion, sect, nationality and ethnicity, as stipulated in Article (5/One) of the same law. In addition, local parties that do not have representation in all governorates should be prevented from participating in the federal elections.
Step Two – Empowering the Demonstrators
Creating strong alliances between protest groups and political parties. Such coalitions must be established in order to meet the demands of the people, with clear political agendas that are convincing to the electorate.
Step Three – Strengthening the Coalitions and Political Blocs
If, for any reason, there are major differences between the protest groups and the parties that could prevent them from forming political alliances, then discussions should take place to iron out these differences, and the protest groups should join the coalitions that currently exist both in the political arena and in parliament. By such means, first, they will be more capable of influencing the policies of these parties; secondly, they will enhance their political experience to bring about change, and thirdly, to create hope for reforming Iraqi society and with it, the political system. Finally, this can ensure and encourage societal integration (of women, youth and minorities) and enable them to assume party leadership positions by democratic means.
In general terms, reforming the structure of the current political system in Iraq requires the formation of alignments and coalitions between sects and political parties in order to solve the endemic problems plaguing Iraqi society, especially related to the economy and living standards. These parties and coalitions must also work to rebuild confidence among the people, who over the past two decades have lost their confidence in the political system because of the rampant administrative and financial corruption. Therefore, the efficiency and effectiveness of the next government will largely depend on reviving and strengthening the multi-party system. Only by such means will Iraq witness a true political democracy.