Patterns of Electoral Behaviour in Iraq

The best measure for seeing the effect of the popular vote is to carefully study that second set of tables issued by IHEC, which ranks candidates strictly after their personal votes. Note how almost all the major lists have very high percentages of candidates that moved forward to high positions due to personal votes they accumulated, mostly with more than 50% of the candidates rising to the top of the lists of vote getters being promoted from positions further down on the list (the main exception being the Sadrist, with somewhat lower rates).

This is not the whole story, though. Because of the women’s quota, the eventual seat winners are not strictly the candidates that won the most votes. Given the requirement that every fourth seat goes to a woman – and that women with a few notable exceptions garnered relatively few personal votes – the women’s quota in Iraq effectively continues to serve as a check on the electorate’s will (and as such often tallies with the interests of party leaderships, the obvious advantages of having higher female representation notwithstanding).

The following table shows the number of top-candidate councilors who remained in seat-winning positions also after the personal vote had been counted (first number); councilors that were promoted from non-winning positions due to the popular vote (second number); and finally women promoted through quota arrangements (third number). It should be added that there are probably no more than a couple of women in the second group of candidates that were promoted because they outnumbered other candidates (including men) in the personal vote, the best example probably being Aisha al-Masari of the Nujayfi list in Baghdad, who got 11,400 votes and thus almost made it to the national top 15.

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In sum, the personal vote option, favoured by the Shiite clergy when it was introduced in 2008, remains largely successful in shaking up Iraqi politics. To some extent, the  system was ridiculed when the Sadrists used it to the maximum in the parliamentary elections of 2010 by carefully orchestrating large number of personal votes for several Sadrists candidates who could then advance internally within the Iraqi National Alliance at the expense of other entities who saw their personal votes wasted on top candidates or not used at all. Nonetheless, these latest results show that the personal vote is here to stay in Iraq, and that elite politicians who choose to ignore it may be doing so at their own peril.

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