Voting System Reforms Unlikely In Iraq

Oct. 16, 2009, midnight

Potential for electoral reform in Iraq diminished on Friday as lawmakers adjourned for the weekend without passing legislation governing January 16's National Assembly elections. The Independent Electoral Commission had said Friday was the last day Parliament could change Iraqi voting arrangements while leaving enough time to implement those changes. At issue were unresolved disputes about seat allocation and apportionment in the Kurdish-dominated Kirkuk region, as well as whether to move from closed to open party lists for national elections. Open-list proportional representation essentially allows voters to overturn party leaders' decisions about individual candidates' likelihoods of winning seats. Most analysts agree that open lists, used in regional elections this year, were popular with voters. Public consensus was emerging among most parties on adopting that system, most vocally advocated by Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini Al-SISTANI. Last week, SISTANI had threatened to boycott the January polls if open lists were not used, and this week, Prime Minister Nouri Al-MALIKI expressed support for the change. According to one observer, party leaders' reform-friendly pronouncements belie their quiet desires to preserve the current voting system, which strengthens their abilities to set the Iraqi legislative agenda. Electoral reform legislation last failed in late July, when lawmakers similarly adjourned without acting.

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