The European Union’s Election Observation Mission to Iraq has described October’s national elections as “largely peaceful and orderly” in its final comprehensive assessment.
Iraq held early elections on October 10 in response to one of the core demands of a nationwide, pro-reform protest movement that erupted in 2019.
The elections were the fifth parliamentary vote for a full-term government since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Under a new electoral law, voters were able to elect individual candidates rather than cast their ballot for a party list, which paved the way for independent MPs to win seats. A total of 3,249 candidates vied for 329 seats in the Iraqi Parliament.
"The conclusion in the mission's final report is that elections were technically well-managed, competitive, and the largely calm electoral campaigns enabled voters to make informed choices,” chief observer Viola von Cramon said in a press release.
“Voting was largely peaceful and orderly, and voters were generally able to freely express their will."
However, the mission highlighted “undue restrictions” that arose from the new law that affected the process and offered recommendations for future elections.
Those restrictions included “unregulated campaign spending," which "negatively affected the level playing field".
Numerous political parties in Iraq have their own TV channels, which some analysts say spread disinformation while being paid for through misuse of public funds.
"Freedom of the media and expression was not properly safeguarded during the campaign and the tabulation and announcement of results lacked transparency," said Ms von Cramon, also a Member of the European Parliament, from Germany.
What the EU mission has proposed
The nearly 100-member mission that represented 22 EU countries came up with several recommendations for consideration.
The priority among them, she said, was “to remove the requirement for voters to have full legal capacity and to remove unreasonable restrictions on the right to stand for election”.
Potential candidates must present a list of 500 registered voters in their constituency to stand and must have no proven links to the Baath party of former dictator Saddam Hussein, but in many cases this is difficult to prove definitively and some experts say that accusations of former membership are often politically motivated.
The mission has also suggested the publication of progressive results during the tabulation process of both preliminary and final results broken down by polling station, as well as the establishment of clear deadlines and competency about each distinct stage of electoral dispute resolution.
The recommendations “also propose to introduce limits on donations and on campaign spending, to accurately define and decriminalise defamation, libel and legitimate information actions, and to adopt a comprehensive data protection law", the press release said.
The mission's mandate was to assess the electoral process against international obligations and commitments for democratic elections as well as Iraq's legislation. It said it would discuss the suggested reforms with Iraqis from all segments of society.
The Sadrist bloc, a political group sponsored by populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, emerged as the clear winner of the election.
The Taqadum party, one of two main Sunni political groups, led by Parliament Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi, followed with 37 seats, while former prime minister Nouri Al Maliki’s State of Law bloc came third with 33.
Mr Al Sadr’s main rival, the Iran-backed Fatah Alliance, won only 17 seats, compared with 45 in 2018.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) won 31 seats, while the Kurdistan Alliance led by the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party won only 17.
State of Law, Fatah and other Shiite groups formed the Co-ordination Framework to contest the election results.
They appealed to the Supreme Court, alleging a string of electoral irregularities, including the failure of the electronic voting system to recognise the fingerprint identification of many voters.
The Supreme Court rejected the appeal.