Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Iraq Election Puzzle

Recent news stories have reported that the political coalition that was expected to win the election lost it, and a rival coalition made a (narrow) surprise win. I do not understand why this is supposed to be important; perhaps one of my readers can explain.

In a winner-take-all system such as the election of an American president, a small difference can be crucial, as demonstrated in the 2000 election. But Iraq has a multi-party parliamentary system, and neither coalition has close to a majority of the seats. In order to form a government, either one of them needs a coalition with one or more smaller parties. The fact that one party has two more seats than another has almost no effect on its ability to do so. So far as I can tell, the only effect is that the rules let the largest party make the first try at forming a coalition—but there is nothing that prevents its rival from trying to reach agreement with enough other parties to make that first try fail

Is the excitement over a purely symbolic issue—which coalition can claim to represent the Iraqi people? Is the right to try to assemble a majority coalition first that valuable? Or am I missing something?


Richard P. said...

The question rests upon whether Iraqi law requires an investiture vote.

If it does, then the opposition's strategy might work to defeat the government.

But if there isn't one, then all the formateur has to do is get approval from the head of government for his or her government.

Moreover, some countries require constructive votes where oppositions can only push a vote if they have a party in the wings.

In the end, getting the power of formateur is important because that person gets the first chance. If rules are aren't lax (like investiture vote is needed) then formateur power is weak.

Richard P. said...


There is an investiture vote - see towards the bottom of the page.

It says that the PM-to-be must get an absolute majority of the Council of Representatives. That makes forming a government much harder and really weakens formateur power. It wouldn't surprise me if doesn't take a while to get a stable government.

Anonymous said...

There are pluses to a multi-party system. Here in the Cincinnati -Hamilton county system, the democrats and republicans get together and pick one person to run for an elected position.

Say the two parties decide that the republicans will get to pick the candidate for county clerk.

The republicans pick person A for the position. Should another republican, person B, want to run for that same position, the republican party is obligated to run a negative campaign for person B while propping up person A.

It's basic corruption 101.

I'd like party free elections at the local level, but the current administration fighting in court to prevent the free people of the US the choice of how they elect persons to office.

We have reached the point where the party is far more important than the people.

Stephen Dawson said...

A nation can have the best constitution in the world and regular elections, but you can never be certain that it really is in the most important respect democratic until its government has been defeated in an election and a new one installed.

Americans and Australians are used to this happening on a regular basis. That this could happen in Iraq gives hope that it might be practising more than just an appearance of democracy, and could be the start of building a tradition of peaceful changes of power (if that's how it pans out).