Patterns of Electoral Behaviour in Iraq

By Reidar Visser.

The following article was published by Reidar Visser, an historian of Iraq educated at the University of Oxford and currently based at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Patterns of Electoral Behaviour in Iraq: The Use of the Personal Vote in the April 2013 Provincial Elections

Whereas the IHEC press conference announcing the results of Iraq’s 20 April local elections was merely a readout of the names of the winning candidates and their political affiliations, a second batch of useful information, giving the numbers achieved by each candidate, has now been published.

This material makes it possible to analyse how the Iraqi electorate uses the “personal vote” option, whereby voters alongside their vote for a particular political entity can indicate their candidate of choice on that slate. When the votes are counted, the pre-set ranking of the candidates done by the party leadership is ignored altogether, and only specific personal votes garnered in the election count as the ordering of candidates on a particular list is done all over again.

Before discussing patterns of electoral behavior, some basic information about how the ballots are cast in an Iraqi election can be useful.Technically speaking, Iraqi voters do not actually receive ballot papers that include the names of the candidates, only the entity names and numbers. Accordingly, in order to make use of the personal vote option, they need to know the number of their preferred candidate and then fill in that candidate’s number after they have checked the box for their party vote.

In theory this can happen in two ways: Either by knowing the candidate’s number beforehand (and remembering it at the voting booth), or by checking a register of all candidates available at the polling station. In practice, most personal votes are probably the result of beforehand knowledge. Electoral propaganda for individual candidates almost invariably includes the key two numbers that voters require, i.e. party list number and candidate number.

Then, to the actual use of the personal vote in the 20 April 2013 provincial elections. The first point that is worth making is that the personal vote option is indeed being used by the electorate – a lot. The following quick calculations are meant to provide a cross-section of contexts and electorates and show that across parties and governorates, from Iraqiyya to Shiite Islamists and from rural Maysan to the capital Baghdad, a large majority of Iraqi voters indicate their preferred candidate when they vote. Most of the examples indicate above 90% use of the candidate vote, and nowhere is the percentage less than 84%:

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