Iraqis protest against push to return to voting system that benefits large parties

The country changed the way it apportions seats in 2021 to appease the demands of a nationwide protest movement

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Iraqis staged a protest in Baghdad on Monday in opposition to changes to the country’s parliamentary and provincial elections law that would bring back a voting system that benefits large parties.

The Demonstrations Committee, a group in Iraq that co-ordinates anti-government protests, attempted to rally demonstrators on Facebook, “calling for major unified Iraqi protests in Baghdad for all the provinces in front of the House of Representatives on Monday to reject the notorious Sainte Lague law”.

The group said the Sainte Lague law, which was replaced in 2021, would ensure “the removal of emerging powers and independents”.

Protest movement demand

After massive protests that erupted in October 2019 and persisted until the spring of 2020, forcing the administration of former prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to resign, the government agreed to hold early elections, which it did in 2021.

Iraq’s elites were shaken by the protests, the largest demonstrations in Shiite-majority provinces in the country's modern history, while a harsh security clampdown left at least 600 dead.

The 2021 elections were held under a new law to replace the Sainte Lague system, with numerous small electoral districts in each province, a move that gave new independent parties — many of which were supported by protesters — a stronger chance of winning seats.

The Sainte Lague system involved a complicated formula used to apportion seats in favour of established parties.

It was replaced a simple policy to apportion seats to parties with the highest number of votes.

Voters could also vote for individual candidates, rather than party lists, further boosting independent politicians.

Combined, the three changes ensured that about 30 candidates who claimed to be independent won seats in 2021.

The Iran-backed Co-ordination Framework and leading Sunni and Kurdish parties now want to return to a voting system known as Modified Sainte Lague that benefitted larger parties between 2014 and 2021.

The system would also apply to provincial elections, which have not been held since 2013. The delay has been blamed on disputes between Baghdad and Kurdish authorities, and severe insecurity that arose during the conflict against ISIS.

However, the provincial elections are due to be held in October.

Last week, parliament debated the draft, which would also return Iraq to having one electoral district per province.

Independent politicians who objected to the proposal walked out of the session, which ended early after it lost its quorum.

Parliament was set to discuss the proposed law again during its session on Monday but MPs voted to postpone the discussion until Saturday.

Updated: February 28, 2023, 1:07 PM