الواجهـة العربيـة
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Considerations for an Electoral
System for Iraq's Transition Period

Edited by Sama Hadad
March 2004

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As this report demonstrates, there are many types of electoral systems, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. However, no system in particular is immediately obvious as the ideal choice for electing the National Assembly. Therefore, one requires a systematic approach to selecting a suitable system. It may be worth considering each class of systems independently first and deciding upon the most appropriate from each.

Any system of elections employed for Iraq's transition period needs to fulfil several requirements that reflect the current status of the country. The first of these is that the actual process of voting should be very simple for the electorate. With no real experience of elections, after decades of dictatorship, any system that requires the voter to make more than one choice will likely lead to confusion and should be avoided. Furthermore, the results of any system need to be easy to explain and understand otherwise this will fuel conspiracy theories and sour the voting experience. Secondly, systems that are more inclusive should be favoured over systems that are not. The process of drafting a constitution and guiding the country through the transition period needs to include as many sections of Iraqi society as possible. Finally, the fewer constituency borders that a system requires the better since this will minimize the political wrangling that will undoubtedly occur.

The complexities of the Block Vote and Alternative Vote, both of which require more than one selection by the voter, make them an unfavourable choice from the Majority-Plurality systems. The likely possibility of many wasted votes and lack of minority representation under First Past the Post also rules out this system as an appropriate choice for Iraq's transition. This leaves the Two-Round system which, although is more costly, is possibly the most appropriate choice for the National Assembly from this class of systems owing to its simplicity for the voter and the fact that it ensures the winning candidate has a majority of the votes. However, all Majority-Plurality systems are liable to leaving large sections of the population unrepresented.

From the Semi-Proportional systems, the Parallel Vote is undesirable as it often leaves voters confused and is complex. The Single Non-Transferable Vote is an attractive option since it improves proportionality, limits the need for boundary definitions (yet does not totally exclude it), and is very simple to conduct and explain. However, it can mean that candidates with a very small percentage of votes can win seats, especially in regions where one candidate sweeps a majority of votes.

The final class of systems is that of Proportional Representation, which tend to ensure the greatest degree of inclusion of all the classes of systems. However, the compounding complexities of the Single Transferable Vote system would not be suitable for national elections in Iraq during the vulnerable transition period. At the same time the Mixed Member Proportional system would produce confusing results that will undoubtedly spark a wave of conspiracy theories in a country unaccustomed to elections. This only leaves the List Proportional Representation system which is certainly not suitable if applied on a countrywide scale, since Iraq lacks a well developed political party system. However, it can be argued that List PR confined to each province may be workable, allowing independents a realistic chance of being elected. In addition, a Provincial List PR system would produce very few wasted votes and thus give the greatest proportion of voters a stake in Iraq's transition.

A study of the Single Non-Transferable Vote reveals that its greatest disadvantage, allowing candidates with a very small percentage of the vote to win, can be resolved by applying a minimum threshold percentage that winning candidates must achieve. Such a threshold can be defined on the basis that if all winning candidates achieved only this minimum threshold of votes then their combined percentages would equal a majority of votes cast (e.g. for a two-seat district the minimum threshold would be 25% of votes, for three seats it would be 16.7%, for four seats 12.5%, etc.). This will produce a hybrid system that would on occasions require a second round, as in the Two-Round system, whereby double the number of vacant seats of runners-up proceed to the second round (e.g. if one seat remains then the top two runners-up would proceed to a second round).

In weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of Provincial List PR against the modified Single Non-Transferable Vote, it is clear the former is simpler to administer and avoids any new border delineations while the later is better suited for a country lacking a well defined political party system and provides a stronger link between constituents and their Member of Parliament. It is probable that both systems would produce similar degrees of proportionality.


© 2007 Iraqi Prospect Organisation