Iraq sets December 18 date for pivotal provincial elections

Elections will be held under modified electoral law last used in 2018

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani. Reuters
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Iraq's government has set December 18 as the date for the country's next provincial elections, the office of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani said on Tuesday.

The elections are seen as pivotal as they will be held under a hotly debated electoral system that was last used in 2018 and abolished in 2020 to calm a nationwide protest movement.

The Sainte-Laguë system was reintroduced by parliament in March, despite an outcry from small opposition parties. It has also been opposed by powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, although he has frozen his political bloc's involvement in politics.

Iraq has not held provincial elections since 2013 due to the rise and fall of ISIS, Covid-19 and political disputes.

Controversial elections law

The announcement could re-energise the protest movement firmly opposed to the Sainte-Laguë electoral system reintroduced by Mr Al Sudani’s coalition.

The system divides the country into 18 single-seat constituencies, making it difficult for smaller political parties to compete on a province-wide basis.

Previously, a 2021 law introduced by former prime minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi divided the country into 83 constituencies, helping small parties mobilise at the local level and confounding some of their adversaries. This included the Iran-backed Fatah bloc, now part of the Co-ordination Framework, a bloc supportive of Mr Al Sudani.

Big winners under the system adopted by Mr Al Kadhimi also included the Sadrist bloc of Mr Al Sadr, who deftly organised his followers in the smaller constituencies.

Mr Al Sadr withdrew his MPs from parliament in June last year in protest against what he said was a corrupt and unconstitutional effort by his adversaries in the Co-ordination Framework to nullify his election gains and prevent him from forming a government.

The subsequently vacant seats in parliament mainly went to Iran-linked parties, leaving smaller independent parties with a handful of seats in the 329-member assembly.

Mr Al Sudani's backers pushed the new law through in a March 27 parliamentary session that drew angry protests from independent candidates, who were escorted from the assembly by security forces.

The reforms introduced by Mr Al Kadhimi had been partly in response to the nationwide protest movement, which was mostly focused on challenging Iran-linked parties. The movement was brutally suppressed, resulting in more than 600 deaths.

The restoration of the older system, which was approved by parliament in March, has drawn condemnation from smaller parties, some of which emerged in the wake of the 2019 protest movement.

Updated: June 20, 2023, 6:38 PM