Iraq: quotas for women in provincial seats weakened

In the lead-up to Iraq’s provincial elections, there is growing anger that the published version of the election law has only a weak provision to set aside seats for women. Early versions of the law, which governs the election of Iraq’s 18 provincial councils, included a firm guarantee that women would have at least 25% of the seats—the same percentage mandated by the Constitution for the national parliament. But the provincial election law was changed several times, and the quota language was gone by the time it went to the Presidency Council, where it awaits approval. “We’ve been told it was a mistake, but this is not good enough,” said Maysoon al-Damluji, a woman from a secular bloc in Parliament. “We’re trying to be sure that women get not less than 25 percent of the seats.”

The final version of the law has vague wording saying there must be “a woman at the end of every three winners”—but this applies only to parties that have multiple candidates and win multiple seats. In many provinces, some parties that win seats may consist of only one or two local leaders—and they are rarely women. Some members of Parliament said the provision on women had been diluted without being widely discussed. “This is a very serious matter,” said Hassan al-Shammari, a member of Fadhila, a Shi’ite party.

Another source of controversy has been the weakening of rules against the use of religious symbols. When the law was being drafted, there was talk of banning the use of mosques for campaigning and of prohibiting the use of religious figures and slogans. The final version is much weaker. While parties still cannot campaign at mosques, the published version of the law allows houses of worship to be used to “support the electoral process”—language far vaguer than a direct prohibition.

Even the weaker rules are being violated by Shi’ite religious parties. Faraj al-Haydari, chairman of the electoral commission, said that so far there had been 45 violations of election laws, including the use of religious figures in campaign materials. At a rally by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq on Jan. 6, the party’s leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, referred repeatedly to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani as party supporters carried banners with Ayatollah Sistani’s face. Sistani denied supporting any political party, Haydari said. (NYT, Jan. 14)

Iraq’s ethnic minorities have also protested the weakening of the election law’s quotas.

See our last posts on Iraq and the women’s struggle.

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