Post-Election Q&A: Iraq's 2014 Council of Representatives Elections
Iraq's 2014 Council of Representatives elections successfully concluded on April 30, with approximately 21.5 million registered voters taking part. On April 27 and 28, Iraqi voters residing abroad cast their votes in 20 countries through the out-of-country voting (OCV) process. On April 28, over 800,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), prisoners, and hospitalized individuals voted in a process known as "special voting" with 91.46 percent turnout. The general public voting took place on April 30 with the initial turnout reported at 62 percent. Simultaneously, the Iraq Kurdistan Region Governorate Council Elections took place on April 28 and 30.
What is the importance of these elections?
These elections are significant for peace and stability in Iraq. The country is witnessing its worst sectarian violence in recent years. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, more than 8,800 Iraqis were killed in 2013, the highest death toll in years. While Iraq continues to face serious political, security and socioeconomic challenges, these elections provide the chance for a continued democratic transition and peace.
The conduct of these elections is also an important accomplishment for the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). The IHEC proved itself capable of conducting smooth and effective electoral events regardless of the tense political situation and deteriorating security conditions. The IHEC also made improvements in the electoral process in Iraq, the most notable being the introduction of technology in the electoral process by using electronic voter cards, as well as new media for public outreach.
However, as with any elections, acceptance of the results will be key for the formation of a new government in the aftermath of the elections as well as for the promotion of stable security conditions in the country.
How was the overall conduct of the elections?
The polling proceeded smoothly with the majority of polling centers open during the regular voting hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The electronic devices and electronic cards function without major glitches. A few minor issues with fingerprint reading and cards were addressed immediately by the IHEC staff.
The UN Security Council, the Arab States League, and U.S. officials commended the people of Iraq for demonstrating their commitment to a peaceful, inclusive and democratic political process, and expressed appreciation to the IHEC for ensuring the elections were Iraqi owned, held on time, and guided by international standards.
What innovations were introduced to the electoral process?
The IHEC initiated the process of introducing technology into the electoral process with automated voter registration (AVR) and electronic voters’ cards to the electoral process, to improve the integrity of elections and the accuracy of the voters’ list.
Due to the lack of sufficient time, it was not feasible to register 21.5 million voters using biometric information prior to these elections. Therefore, the process will re-start in June 2014 and will continue until all Iraqi voters are registered using this method. The IHEC’s objective is to have this completed by the 2018 parliamentary elections.
To prevent electoral fraud, the IHEC also proceeded with the distribution of the electronic voter cards. These cards were used to locate the voter’s record in the polling station verification device. Only voters who had an electronic card were able to vote, with the exception of internally displaced persons from Anbar and voters who were not able to collect an electronic card due to the security situation in Anbar. The electronic cards were active only on Election Day during voting hours (from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.) and they could not be used to vote twice.
How was the mood on Election Day?
Despite concerns that public disappointment over the general security situation, poor services, and corruption would lead to voter apathy and poor turnout, in general Iraqis appeared to be quite positive about the elections themselves. According to the findings of a new pre-election survey conducted by the National Democratic Institute in early 2014, 72 percent believe that elections are a “good thing” for Iraq and 75 percent are more enthusiastic about voting in these elections compared to previous ones.
Security and local identity were dominant themes in these elections. This is in contrast to the 2010 parliamentary elections, which primarily involved strategies of ethno-sectarian unity. But similar to the previous elections, none of the political blocs has put forward a concrete electoral program or platform, instead resorting to vague slogans and attacks on the government and on each other.
How was security on Election Day?
While the elections were conducted successfully overall, in some instances security concerns and incidents did impact the electoral process and inhibit some voters from participating. There were a number of security incidents reported at polling centers across Iraq, despite the tight security and curfews imposed to ensure the security of electoral operations. Nationwide, 12 people were reportedly killed during the election days, among them two election officials. The main areas of violent attacks were concentrated in the northern Iraq – in Ninewah and Salahidin – as well as in Anbar. A number of polling stations in these governorates were not opened due to the poor security situation, and fears about personal security played a role in decreased voter turnout. However, incidents were largely limited to individual bombings and mortar attacks; mass casualty attacks threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) failed to materialize, which has been attributed to Iraqi authorities’ attention to security concerns.
When can results (both preliminary and final) be expected?
In these elections, the recount of votes is taking place at 60 recount and sorting centers established by the IHEC (votes are initially counted in polling stations immediately after the polling stations close, and then again in the recount and sorting centers). The recount of ballots started on May 2 and is underway at the time of writing. The preliminary results will be announced in approximately 20 days to one months’ time.
The certified results will be announced after complaints are adjudicated by the Electoral Judicial Panel. Therefore, the date for announcement of certified results will depend on the number of electoral complaints and the time needed for adjudication. In 2010, the certification of election results took 14 weeks.
When will the new Representatives take office?
The President of the Republic will issue a presidential decree calling upon the Council of Representatives to convene within 15 days from the date of the certified elections results. Its eldest member will chair the first session to elect the Speaker of the Council and his two Deputies.
No single party is likely to win an absolute majority and, as in the previous elections, coalition talks are likely to take months. It took ten months to form the government in 2010 and this scenario is likely to be repeated.