In 2005, parties that got the most votes appointed members for seats. This time, an “open ballot” will allow voters to choose individual candidates within parties.
Of course, the article–which is actually quoting a UN envoy–propagates the common ignorance of how closed-list systems, including in Iraq in 2005 work*: parties “appointing” members, as if those elected members had not been nominated to their ranked positions on lists prepared before the election.
I continue to wonder, however, if this system really is open list, or something else. For instance, some time ago I had an e-mail from someone in Iraq–someone I do not know but who seemed to know what he was talking about–who said, in part:
We’re looking at an open list system with non-transferable votes–once a candidate receives enough votes to be elected, any extras do not accrue to his or her party.
This is similar to some vague references to “hybrid” that I quoted in the original discussion, liked above.
The quote from my correspondent in Iraq could be interpreted as SNTV, rather than open lists. What sort of list system throws away votes for a candidate beyond those needed to be elected? Or perhaps it is SNTV, but with pooling of losers’ votes, but not of winner’s surplus? That would be odd, but I suppose it is possible. (I have e-mailed back and hope to get a clarification.)
UPDATE: A post from September at a blog called Abu Muqawama has a description that reads for me as precisely open-list PR. However, he contrasts this “OLPR” system with one he calls “OL,” by which he evidently means what the rest of us would call SNTV. This terminological issue appears to be the source of the confusion that implies OLPR is a hybrid of PR and something else rather than just one of the alternative forms of list PR.
* The only confirmed exception being Nepal’s recent election, apparently.
An electoral law for Iraq’s planned provincial elections is still not complete. No surprise there. And the elections may be delayed again. No surprise there, either.1
Whenever they might get around to holding these contests, what will the electoral system be? Various sources are hinting at open lists or SNTV (though the latter now appears unlikely), but the news and other information is typically sketchy about critical details.
Unlike the closed lists used in 2005, which helped big parties, a consensus is emerging for a hybrid system. Voters will be able to elect independents and rather than selecting an entire party list, they will have to mark each preferred candidate so the top names have no advantage.
I suppose one could call open-list PR a hybrid of sorts, though it not usually so classified.2 I’m not sure how the closed-list system used at the national elections is supposed to have “helped big parties,” especially given the calculation of of seat distribution at the national level with no threshold other than that set by the (very large) magnitude of allocation (275). The remark about marking “each preferred candidate” implies more than one candidate-preference vote per voter, a feature of some open-list systems, but not a very common feature.3
Then there is historiae.org, a site maintained by Reidar Visser, research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs:
A hybrid system (voters can choose between a list and an individual candidate) has been adopted, but the counting rules are clearly biased towards bigger entities. Whereas the votes for a party list will count towards a cumulative total score which will enable the party to maximise its share of all remaining seats available in a given province, votes cast for an individual representative will apparently become â€œredundantâ€ once a candidate has received enough votes to win a seat for him/herself. This would be a major disincentive against voting for an individual instead of a standard list, because there is a very real chance that the individual vote can be wasted â€“ incidentally, a kind of voter behaviour against which an injunction by top Shiite cleric Ali al-Sistani was issued back in 2005.
I am really not sure what Visser is getting at here. Again, there is the reference to “hybrid,” and I might read into this that it’s an open list (as other sources imply). But the claim–implicitly contrary to that in The Guardian‘s contrast with the national elections–that it would favor large parties (“entities”) is unclear to me, inasmuch as what is described is the intraparty allocation, rather than the interparty. Of course, open-list PR is PR (for the given district magnitude) and it does indeed thus imply that votes for candidates accrue to the list as a whole (i.e. “pool” on the interparty dimension) but stay only with the candidate for whom cast (i.e. are nontransferable on the intraparty dimension). The suggestion that such rules would be a disincentive to candidate-voting is not born out by any experience with actual open lists that I know of. But then maybe I am misunderstanding and the proposed law is for something other than OLPR. If only we knew. But then again, if these elections never happen, it is rather moot, isn’t it?
One of the big stumbling blocks is the powder keg that is Kirkuk. [↩]
The (weak) case for its being properly labeled a “hybrid” would be that it is list PR on the interparty dimension–where closed vs. open vs. flexible is irrelevant anyway–but SNTV on the intraparty dimension. [↩]
Italy’s former OLPR allowed multiple preference votes till the early 1990s, and Peru’s allows two, I believe. Most others (Brazil, Chile, Finland, etc.) allow only one. [↩]
As I write, democracy assistance groups are helping lawmakers develop an electoral system for Iraqâ€™s 18 governorate councils. Some creative electoral engineering could take the sectarian sting out of Iraqâ€™s party system. One proposal worth serious thought is using the single non-transferable vote (SNTV) with open endorsements in governorate-wide districts…
A party system that continues to revolve around sects will not help consolidate Iraqi democracy. Luminaries from Lipset to Lijphart have taught that stable democratic politics are about more than race, religion or language. The challenge is to get Iraqi elites talking about more than sectarian interest. What candidates need are incentives to cultivate a personal vote.
SNTV certainly does that, and I thank Jack for the link to a previous F&V planting on those incentives. I would, however, take exception to Jack’s suggestion that political science “luminaries” have said that
Campaigns need to be about whatâ€™s-in-it-for-me: jobs, schools, roads and, as a colleague quipped, a shawarma machine in every kitchen.
The case can be made that such a politics oriented around individual legislatorsâ€™ credit-claiming is a salve to sectarian tensions in countries where party-oriented politics necessarily means sectarian-oriented politics. I am just not aware of that argument having been made by any of the scholars Jack alludes to.
Donald Horowitz is one of the leading experts in political science on ethnic conflict. I often disagree with his specific electoral-institutional recommendations, but his views on any conflict he turns his attention to are always worth considering seriously. By way of Kenneth Anderson’s Law of War blog, following are some key excerpts of a recent piece by Horowitz from the Wall Street Journal. (more…)
Amazingly, there still exists a blog of hyper-optimism called Iraq the Model. But in a recent Salon article, Charles Freeman, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia under Bush I, sums up what the phrase really means:
The irony now is that the most likely candidate to back Hezbollah in the long term is no longer Iran but the Arab Shiite tyranny of the majority we have installed in Baghdad.
Indeed. As I noted repeatedly back in the early days of this now-year-old blog,* the Iraqi political system created under the botched US occupation of that deeply divided country is, at best, a majoritarian system. And, in the context of such societal divisions, that is just a polite word for tyranny of the majority. When the main political parties of that majority also happen to have militias, the emphasis goes on tyranny.
And that pretty well describes the situation Hezbollah has created in Lebanon. The Shiite community in Lebanon is not yet the majority, but it is the plurality. And demographic trends will make it a majority before long.
The current Lebanese political system–such as it is–remains conscociational. The declining Christian community is no longer guaranteed an effective majority of the important political positions, as it was before the civil war, but it is still guaranteed 50% of the cabinet and legislature. This is not sustainable in the longer run. The emerging political-system model for Lebanon looks a lot like Iraq: Majority rule for the dominant Shiite parties, with some subordinate power-sharing with the various other groups–in both cases a Sunni Arab minority and a major “other” in the form of the Christians in Lebanon and the Kurds in Iraq–and armed militias all around. In Lebanon, the other organizations aside from Hezbollah disarmed, but is that sustainable as the Shiite population grows and inevitably agitates for Lebanese institutions that reflect that reality?
And that’s what the “democratic” scenario for each country looks like. Some model indeed.
* If you missed the discussion, click on Iraq above and scroll. You won’t have to scroll far: There are few posts after the elections of January that empowered SCIRI, DAWA, and the Sadrists under the constitution ratified the previous fall.
The Hill on 23 June ran an Oxford Analytica op-ed that highlights the factional balance within the alliance that obtained the plurality of seats in the Iraqi parliamentary elections, the United Iraqi Alliance.
The Alliance’s closed list had been set up prior to the election in such a way as to ensure that no one Shiite faction would have more than 20 seats. As Oxford Analytica notes:
In effect, the UIA list put off a truly democratic plebiscite [poor word choice--ed.] on the popularity of individual Shiite factions and instead represented a negotiated settlement between Shiite power blocs.
This is a reminder that proportional representation–even in a highly “extreme” version, such as Iraq’s effective nationwide PR with no legal threshold–does not preclude pre-election cooperation among separate political organizations that see advantages in not competing with one another. And the closed list ensures that such cooperating blocs not only submerge their separate identities within a broader label but also ensure adherence to their pre-election “negotiated settlement” with respect to the balance of legislative spoils.
Subsequent to the election, the Fadhila bloc and Ahmed Chalabi’s group, neither of which holds any cabinet portfolios, have split from the UIA. Fadhila does, however, control the governorate of Basra, though he is under pressure from his erstwhile UIA colleagues, who control the provincial assembly, to resign.
The article goes on to describe the main groups within the alliance and notes that the remaining groups have exhibted generally strong unity in parliament. Yet:
Beneath the surface, Shiite factions have been far less accommodating to each other, leading to increasingly violent jockeying through southern Iraq.
In other words, the “negotiated settlement” did not necessarily settle things, and the separate organizations under the UIA umbrella continue to “negotiate” by other means.
An interesting question to ponder–and I do not claim to have the answer–is whether this ongoing “negotiation” would have been less violent had the lists been open, thereby allowing the electoral value of separate organizational identities and their candidates to establish the balance within the UIA.
Meanwhile, with reprisals against several of their own mosques, the major Suuni Arab party, the Iraqi Accord Front, is boycotting talks on government formation, as well as a summit called by chairman of the Presidency Council, Jalal Talabani, to deal with the crisis.
Juan Cole has his usual in-depth coverage of what news outlets in the region are reporting on all of this.
According to preliminary results released by the Electoral Commission of Iraq, the main Shiite list obtained 128 of 275 seats, which is 46.5% of the total and only ten seats short of a majority. This is a far better result for the list than I projected days before the election. However, other lists are very close to my projection:
That the two Sunni Arab lists combined for precisely 20%, which matches their estimated share of the population, and also matches my projection (which was weighted by turnout of the various main groups in the October referendum) fails to give much credence to Sunni leaders’ claims of fraud.
Slightly more credence to such claims might result from the fact that the Shiite list did almost as well in the December election as it did last January (48%) in an election that Sunni Arabs hardly partiticipated in. However, I suspect their stronger showing, relative to total turnout, in December as compared to January, 2005, is primarily a product of the adhesion of the Sadrist forces to the list this time around.
By being so close to a majority, the Islamist alliance will be able to form a government with only minor consessions to other groups. Remember, contrary to repeated assertions in the media, the constitution almost certainly should be read as allowing a parliamentary majority–not a two-thirds majority–to determine the members of the Presidency Council and the more important posts of Prime Minister and other cabinet ministers.
More analysis once the detailed provincial breakdowns are available–though I won’t promise to get to it immediately after the certified results are released (which could be Sunday or Monday).
In the comments to my previous post on the requirements for forming a government in Iraq, Nadezhda, quoting a law professor at Informed Comment, notes some doubts as to whether there is indeed an absolute two-thirds-majority requirement to elect the Presidency Council, or whether the parliament may proceed to election by simple majority if no initially nominated slate obtains 2/3.
This is an important question. As I note in an extensive comment following up on Nadezhda’s, I read the constitution as still allowing the majority to elect the Presidency. However, the language of the constitution is indeed somewhat ambiguous–which is itself a very bad thing.
The LA Times story linked above refers to seats, while I based my estimates on votes. I am going to assume the outcome will again be as proportional as it was in January, based on my understanding that the electoral system is still fundamentally nationwide proportional representation, notwithstanding the allocation of some seats at a first stage in each governorate. (In other words, for all fellow students of electoral systems, I understand the 45 national-tier seats to be compensatory, not supplementary.)
The early results put the Kurdish alliance at about 55 seats, the main Sunni Arab list at 45, Allawi’s list at 25, and the UIA at 130. I had projected 50, 55*, 30, and 107 (!), respectively.
[*my projection of 55 was based on three Sunni lists combined, while the Times mentions only the National Accordance Front]
Most remarkably, if these results are close to accurate, the UIA would be at 47% of the seats, which would not be much less than it had in January (51%), when Sunni Arabs hardly participated at all.
This preliminary result suggests that the presence of Sadrists on the UIA in December (but not in January) bumped up both the UIA’s share of the Shiite electorate (from my estimate of 72% in January), and the overall Shiite share of the vote (from my estimate of 61% in the October referendum, which was my baseline for December projections).
However, if only Shiite turnout were up from what it was in the referendum, the Kurdish alliance would not be beating my projection as well. Kurdish turnout could hardly get higher, given that it was already probably at 90% in the referendum.
This leads to the unfortunate (and, let’s recall, preliminary) conclusion that Sunni Arab turnout was less than I expected it to be. If that proves to be the case in the final results, Sunni turnout coupled with the UIA’s strong performance make for a very alarming pair of developments, given the majoritarian nature of the constitution (as I have noted in numerous Iraq posts going back to late summer.)
The formation of the next Iraqi government is expected to be further delayed by the requirement of a two-thirds majority vote for the election of a “presidential council” of a president and two vice presidents that will nominate a prime minister for parliamentary approval. In practice, that means that any Iraqi leader hoping to form a government will effectively need a supermajority.
This is not right. Article 67 of the Iraqi constitution has two paragraphs on how the Council of Representatives (the parliament just elected) shall select the President of the Republic (which is indeed redefined in the transitory provisions as a three-person council elected on a single slate):
First: The Council of Representatives shall elect, from among the nominees, the President of the Republic by a two-thirds majority of its members.
So far, so good. But then there is a gigantic loophole:
Second: If any of the candidates does not receive the required majority vote then the two candidates who received the highest number of votes shall compete and the one who receives the highest number of votes in the second election shall be declared as President.
So, it takes two thirds unless the majority does not want it to take two thirds.
But even this has little to do with forming a government, which actually means the prime minister and cabinet. Article 73:
First: The President of the Republic shall name the nominee of the Council of Representatives bloc with the largest number to form the Cabinet within fifteen days from the date of the election of the president of the republic.
In other word, there is a mandatory first crack at forming a government given to the alliance that has obtained the most seats in parliament (otherwise known as the UIA)–unless perhaps an alternative bloc has already formed by that point that is larger (which is unlikely, as I noted in “Guerrillas and Elections” earlier today).
A later provision of the Article 73 notes that the prime minister is deemed to have the confidence of parliament once his ministers and his program of government have been approved by “an absolute majority.”
In other words, there is no super-majority requirement to form a government in Iraq.
Not that it would be a bad thing if there were, contrary to the claim of the next paragraph of the above-linked NYT article:
One possibility, if no Iraqi leader can cobble together enough votes, is a “national unity” government consisting of the leaders of all the major parties. Such an outcome is unlikely and it is not preferred by many Iraqi leaders, who fear that such a government would be too fractious to carry out decisive action.
In other contexts, a government incable of carrying out decisive action is one known as being checked against the tyranny of the majority. That is, a national unity (or “grand”) coalition would be exactly what the divided nature of Iraqi society calls for. But while such a government is indeed possible if the leaders decide it is in their interests (perhaps to restrain the threat of civil war), there is no constitutional provision that requires it or makes it particularly likely. In fact, as I have been saying in this space since August (see any of several Iraq posts), this constitution is actually quite majoritarian.
I learned about this NYT article from Outside the Beltway, and I am quite grateful to James for calling it to his readers’ attention. However, James follows up the article’s remark about a national unity government with the following observation:
Such is the way with proportional representation schemes. The framers of this constitution clearly needed more input from–or to better heed–political scientists. If they insisted on proportional representation, which leads to a ridiculous number of political parties and constant jostling to put together and maintain a governing coalition, then they might have borrowed the double ballot system from France. Under that scheme, there is an election wherein people can vote for their little fractious party followed, if none win a majority, with a runoff between the two largest vote getters. That creates, in effect, a pre-election coalition that is much more stable.
In that quoted passage, James seems to be implying that the two-round system in single-member districts (the French system) is part of the broader family of proportional representation (PR), which it manifestly is not. But that aside, there are a couple of points to keep in mind here in comparing the suitability of some sort of candidate-and-district-based system (like that of France, or the US) versus proportional representation:
(1) Pre-election coalitions are by no means precluded by proportional representation, and indeed have occurred in Iraq. The Kurdish list is a pre-election coalition of two main and a few smaller Kurdish parties. The UIA is a pre-election coalition of Dawa and SCIRI, among others. And so on. The claim that PR inevitably leads to fragmentation is belied by the actual Iraqi result last January, and is a common, but quite inaccurate, caricature of PR systems.
(2) A two-round system would have done two things, neither helpful for bringing Iraq together: generate a gross disproportionality of the result, inlcuding probably a very large majority of seats for the UIA; and, outside of regions dominated by the UIA or the Kurdish list, a severe fragmentation, as many local tribal-supported candidates would have run as independents or under the labels of small parties–because such a system rewards locally concentrated support. In other words, a two-round system would have exacerbated the worst feature of the assembly elected in January (independent of Sunni participation): dominance by the pre-election alliance that represents the Shiite-Islamist segment of the population.
Few political scientists would ever recommend a two-round system for legislative elections, as James seems to imply. Nonetheless, few would have recommended the system that was used in January–PR in a single nationwide district. What most political scientists would have recommened is PR with regional districts and national compensation–and that is what was indeed used this week.
Had the UIA’s component parties and the Kurdish alliance not already been “facts on the ground” in Iraq well before the January elections, I might have recommended (if asked, which I was not) SNTV in moderately sized districts (i.e. the Afghan system, but in far smaller districts than were used there), despite my usual disdain for SNTV. But with parties already existing, I do not feel there was much opportunity to establish a more candidate-based and regionalized system.
There was also a practical problem to using SNTV, plurality, or a two-round system: The fear candidates had of campaigning openly as individuals, given the security situation.
In short, while the electoral system chosen in Iraq is not ideal by any means, something broadly in the PR family was almost certainly most suitable to the conditions the country faced at the point at which the first elections were held. The fact that PR promotes coalitions is a valuable aspect of the system, and not a flaw. In fact, that the constitution does not go farther to restrain the parliamentary majority by mandating power-sharing (via super-majority provisions, such as those the Times reporter saw, but that are not actually there) is a potential Achilles heal of the system.
As we await the results of the December 15 parliamentary election in Iraq, we should–as advised also by James Joyner and Stephen Bainbridge (whose site is temporarily down)–refrain from triumphalism despite the apparent strong participation across most of Iraq. (I would not call the reported 80% turnout “massive” as Joyner does or even “impressive” as Steven Taylor does. It was precisely what should have been expected, and it is decent but hardly overwhelming.)
There is one very important thing to keep in mind about the role of these elections in the ongoing sectarian conflict that US forces remain in the middle of: The apparent strong turnout among Sunni Arabs in this election, possibly including an increase even in Anbar (where only 37% of the electorate participated in the constitutional referendum), does not in any way necessarily imply the demise of the guerrilla insurgency. Guerrilla warfare and elections are often parallel “currencies” of political power.
To understand why, it is helpful to consider what is the maximum objective that the group that has armed resistance among its constituents can obtain via institutional representation. The LA Times reported Sunday on the views of Hassan Zeidan, described as a former senior Baath Party general (thus barred from candidacy in this election), who said:
the Sunni groups would seek to enter into alliances to try to deny power to the current Shiite-led coalition under Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari. Possible allies, he said, include the Kurdish parties and the followers of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite who was once a Baathist.
He said that if elected, the Sunnis would press for an early U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and push for added constitutional changes to unify the country and reduce the chances that Iraq could break apart along ethnic and sectarian lines. [my epmhasis]
How achievable are these stated goals? Hardly at all, if we base our assessment only on the political power they will win via the elections. Perhaps partially if they retain their other currency, armed resistance.
Even if my projections of the vote, which I presented the day before the election, are considerably optimistic from the perspective of the Shiite UIA and pessimistic for the Sunni parties, there is no realistic scenario in which the UIA will not be the largest party, holding well over one third of the seats in parliament. Even with the four-month window in which an absolute majority of the parliament can adopt any amendments that might be recommended by a cross-sectarian constitutional commission, a majority coalition to adopt constitutional changes desired by the Arab Sunnis will be hard to achieve, for reasons developed below.
While a UIA showing of around 38-40% (down from 48% last January) would make a majority coalition excluding the UIA mathematically feasible, it would be politically a non-starter. The primary reasons are:
(1) Existing constitutional provisions on government formation;
(2) The continuing pivotal position of the Kurds;
(3) The political fragmentation of the Arab Sunnis.
First, the constitution (Article 73) requires the Presidency Council to “name the nominee of the Council of Representatives bloc with the largest number to form the Cabinet.” That is, the first move in forming a government will necessarily go to the UIA.
It would be possible for a majority of members of parliament to oppose the UIA nominee, and thus force the Presidency Council to propose a second candidate to be Prime Minister from outside the largest bloc in parliament. However, such a development is unlikely, precisely due to the pivotal position of the Kurds and the fragmentation of the Sunnis. These latter two conditions apply even to the constitutional-amendment process; that is, they apply even given the possibility that a majority coalition for constitutional changes theoretically could form that is different from the majority that empowers the cabinet.
So the second obstacle in the way of Arab Sunnis leveraging electoral and parliamentary power to obtain changes they desire is that the Kurds will again be pivotal. Moreover, Kurds have much more incentive to remain in alliance with the UIA than to forge a new one with a bloc of Arab Sunnis–even if the latter is able to overcome its fragmentation and act as a bloc to promote collective interests of the Sunni community.
While it is clear what the Sunni parties might want from the Kurds, it is not clear what the Kurds would be willing to offer the Sunnis to build a coalition with them. The Kurds have already obtained their primary goals as a result of the current coalition with the UIA. These are: recognition of Kurdistan as an existing region within a federal Iraq, retention of their militia, control over their oil revenue, and a mechanism by which they can annex the Kirkuk region (split between Arab Sunnis and Kurds) to Kurdistan.
Arab Sunnis would like to renegotiate many of these Kurdish gains, especially the oil revenue distribution and the status of Kirkuk. Kurds have no incentive to do so–unless pressured to do so and unless they conclude it is necessary to avoid a civil war in the north that they (the Kurds) want to avoid. Obviously, the threat of igniting civil war in the Kirkuk region (and perhaps also Mosul, which is also mixed) is a trump card the Arab Sunnis will retain in an attempt to punch greater than their (electoral/parliamentary) weight.
Finally, there is the greater fragmentation of the Arab Sunni political scene relative to those of the Kurds and Shiities. It is unlikely that any one Sunni list will prove to have dominated its sectarian electorate to the extent of the main Kurdish alliance (which probably won over 90% of Kurdish votes in January) or the UIA (which appears to have won over 70% of Shiite votes in January, and could have won more this time with the inclusion of the Sadrists).
We have already seen the fragmentation of the Arab Sunnis in action: in one party’s announcement of support for the constitution in exchange for relatively minor concessions days before the referendum.
Thus it is far more likely that some fragments of the Arab Sunni political representatives will be brought into the coalition with the UIA and the Kurds than that there will be any broad Sunni-backed alliance to counter the UIA or to negotiate as a block in favor of collective goals of the Sunni portion of the population.
The likely result is at least a temporary re-fueling of the insurgency, rather than a dampening of it, as a key part of the Arab Sunni constituency continues to support insurgency as an alternative currency of power to augment their weak position within the institional political process.
Guerrillas and elections are often complementary, not contradictory, forms of political representation.
On December 15, Iraqis will vote in the third national election this year, this time for a parliament with a four-year term. What can we expect, given that Sunni Arab lists are participating, unlike in January’s election for the constituent assembly?
Some quick and rough estimates suggest something like the following, where the first number is my estimate for December and the second number was the result in January:
39%/48%– UIA (the main Shiite alliance)
18%/25.7– Kurdish alliance
11%/13.8– Iraqi List (Allawi)
20%/0– combined for the main Arab Sunni lists
I am assuming that there will be very minimal changes in each group’s voting preference. In other words, that there are not many swing voters, for instance between the UIA and Allawi’s list within the Shiite community. Some reports have suggested there could be, but count me as skeptical until shown reason to be otherwise.
If this is even close to accurate, then obviously the UIA will not be in as commanding a position to form a cabinet as it was after January’s election, but it will still be far larger than any other alliance.
I derive these estimates by an analysis of the turnout in groups of departments that are dominated by one ethno-sectarian group or another, in January and October. The assumption I make is that the October referendum turnout rates will be repeated without major change in December.
The graph below shows the comparison of turnout rates in January’s constituent assembly election and October’s constitutional referendum. The horizontal axis is turnout in January. The vertical axis is turnout in October, as a percentage of the January turnout (thus the October rate can be over 100% without there necessarily being anything untoward).
Click on the image for a larger version.
The closer a province (or, more properly, governorate) is to the diagonal, the less changed was the turnout between the two elections. It is notable that almost all the Shia-dominated provinces had modest declines, while the Kurdish provinces had almost no change, except for a small increase in Arbil.
For any province in which there was a no vote on the referendum of more than 5%, there is a number in parentheses indicating what that percentage was. Not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between turnout increase and negative votes on the constitution: these are the provinces with large Arab Sunni populations. (I also included this number for Arbil, given that is is one of the few provinces lacking a large Arab Sunni population in which turnout was up. Even in Babil, by contrast, the small increase in turnout is probably mostly explained by the small no vote, i.e. by Arab Sunnis coming out to reject the constitution.)
It is quite striking how different the two provinces with the biggest negative votes are in their turnouts in both elections (something I noted in a previous post as well): Anbar had a large increase, but coming from a very low base (2% in January). Saladdin, on the other hand, was one of the few provinces where turnout was greater in October than the number registered in January. The different behavior of voters in these two provinces is attributable to some combination of different party leanings (perhaps the IIP, the one Arab Sunni party to have come out for the constitution right before the referendum, is stronger there) and, more importantly, guerrilla activity (which is greatest in Anbar).
Based on these turnout changes, I derived estimates of the likely contributions of each of the three main sectarian groups to the turnout, and the percentage of each group that voted for the main parties.
It is conventionally estimated that Shiites make up 60% of the population and Kurds and Arab Sunnis around 20% each (ignoring the numerous other minorities, the most important of which are the Turkomen).
Based on turnout in the provinces most dominated by each group, it appears that each group’s contribution to the January vote was as follows. (The number in parentheses here is the rough estimate of what percentage of each group voted.)
67% Shiite (68%)
28% Kurd (84%)
5% Arab Sunni (16%)
My figures work out to about a 61% total national turnout. (For Shiites, 68% turnout by a group representing 60% of the electorate yields Shiites delivering 41% of the total eligible vote; 41% of the potential voters is 68% of the actual vote). Actual national turnout was reported to be around 60%, so the numbers check out.
In October, the same calculations result in the following, again with the first number indicating the contribution of the group to the actual votes cast, and the number in parentheses indicating the estimated turnout of that group.
54% Shiite (61%)
27% Kurd (90%)
20% Arab Sunni (67%)
Notice how Kurds were represented about the same share in the two elections, because their turnout actually increased. Shiites turned out to be the least motivated group in October. Will that change in December? If it does, then my estimate of 39% for the UIA will be too low.
These calculations result in a total turnout estimate in the referendum at 68%, which is a few percentage points on the high side of what was reported.
In January, about 72% of Shiites appear to have voted for the United Iraqi Alliance and around 21% for the Iraqi List. Assuming those percentages do not change much, we get UIA at 39% in December and Iraqi Alliance at 11%.
An unknown factor is how much the addition of Muqtada Sadr to the UIA and the subtraction of Ahmed Chalabi will affect the UIA vote. Here I am assuming it is a wash, but if Sadr adds more than Chalabi takes away (which would be my guess), my estimate for the UIA will be too low.
Another change in the list lineup that could affect the results include the Kurdistan Islamic Union, which separated from the main Kurdish list. The KIU last ran separately in the Kurdistan regional elections of 2000 and won 20% of the vote. But it is unlikely to attract such a strong showing in all-Iraq elections. Even if it does, would it align for government-formation purposes with any bloc not joined by its fellow Kurds? It would seem not.
The Iraqi List may also outperform my estimate, at the expense of the main Arab Sunni lists, given that it has some Sunnis on its slate. But I would not expect it to gain a lot more than what my estimate says.
Well, let’s see how my good estimation capability is!
Back on October 15, the day of the Iraqi constitutional referendum, I suggested that I might compare province-level turnout in the January and October elections. Well, I finally did. (Never say F&V does not deliver on promises!)
In the October 15 post, I had quibbled with the triumphalist assessment in some quarters that the referendum and Arab Sunni turnout therein represented a “victory over terror.” I noted that we would expect Sunni turnout to have been higher in the referendum than in the assembly election:
If Sunnis tend to oppose the constitution then the only way to express that opposition is to turn out in pursuit of the 2/3 no in three provinces.
[...] In January, the only way to express opposition to a process that was guaranteed to under-represent them was to stay away. In other words, now the incentives are reversed.
The clause, “guaranteed to under-represent.” referred to the single nationwide district for proportional allocation, which meant that differential turnout across regions would be critical in shaping the balance of power in the assembly. Predominantly Arab Sunni areas, I argued, would be likely to have low turnout even if there was no organized boycott, simply because they are the most violent areas of the country. The referendum, on the other hand, was not a strictly nationwide election, because opponents of the constitution did not need 50% nationwide to defeat it. All they needed was 2/3 no votes in at least three provinces.
So, I surmised that a test of the extent to which the vote/no vote decision was motivated by electoral incentives (a desire to see the constitution defeated) vs. violence (or sympathy with the rejectionist posture of those perparating attacks) would be a comparison of turnout by province in the two elections. Electoral incentives predict an increase in turnout in the provinces that have the highest Arab Sunni population, such that their turnout more closely resembles that of the country as a whole. Violence predicts a turnout level that remains well below the national average.
I will measure turnout over the denominator of registered voters in January. This means that October turnout could excede 100% if there were more registered voters in October, but it assures a consistent baseline. So, the measure is (October votes cast over January registered voters) minus (January votes cast over January registered voters).
The total raw turnout increase nationwide was around 1.5 million votes, or around 10.5% of the total registered in January. The avergae unweighted province-level change was +10.2%.
Turnout declined across the Shiite regions, especially on Najaf and Wasit (both with -10% or greater decrease). In most of the country the October turnout was with 6 percentage points, plus or minus, of the January turnout.
Erbil, one of the predominatly Kurdish areas had a large increase (20.7), but all the other areas with big increases were indeed Sunni Arab majority provinces, or mixed provinces such as Kirkuk and Diyala.
Here are the biggest increases, followed by the no percentage in the referendum (a good indicator of Arab Sunni presence among a province’s electorate):
(These were the only provinces in which the yes did not exceed two thirds of the votes.)
This leaves us with a very mixed picture. The Anbar turnout in January was a mere two percent of registered voters, so even with the large turnout increase in October (which included many new registrants, too), the turnout in that province still reached only a paltry 37.4%–and that’s based on the smaller January denominator. On the other hand, in the other province that is dominated by a Sunni Arab population, Saladdin, turnout in October exceded the number of voters who had registered in January. (There was also a small increase in turnout in Baghdad, the only other province where the Sunni population is large enough to have produced more than 20% no votes against the constitution.)
So, we could say that the guerrillas, who reject the entire process, scored a pretty good victory in Anbar, but were indeed defeated elsewhere where large numbers of Sunnis live. What we cannnot say from these data is the extent to which greater levels of war-related insecurity might have prevented a greater turnout in Ninevah, which could have boosted its 55% no up to two thirds, thereby ensuring the defeat of the constitution.
[Data are from Adam Carr for the January election to the transitional assembly that drafted the constitution and from the Iraqi electoral commission itself for the October referendum on that constution. Carr also has a useful map.]
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4