Iraq Elections Report

Status of Iraqi Elections – Report, April 13, 2018

MarshToMountain publishes its Election Status Report to track and examine developments related to challenges facing the Independent Higher Electoral Committee (IHEC), (Iraq’s body running elections) and what potential impact they have on elections’ outcomes. This report addresses the following issues:

1-the controversy over forming IHEC current Board of Commissioners

2-Chances IHEC would be able to run the Electronic Voting (EV) method & defy pressure to run manual process.

3-How reliable/credible the customized EV process is

4-The issue of internally displaced persons’ voting

 

IHEC’s current Board of Commissioners controversy

Last year of 2017, there was a political showdown over the work of IHEC and its Board of Commissioners (BoC). Sadrists and few smaller factions in parliament supported by the pro-reform protest movement, demanded amending the way BoC is formed. Sadr envisaged such a step would enable his project to shake the political status que (in a way that serves Sadrists’ interests) which is based on an ethno-sectarian quota system spearheaded by the Da’wa Party. Virtually all other major parties resisted the course fearing succumbing to Sadr’s pressure will eventually disrupt the established political balance, and Council of Representatives (CoR) managed to appoint members of BoC according to the original measures whereby major parties nominate ostensibly independent commissioners to BoC. The affair further deteriorated the public trust in electoral process credibility.

Although many in mid and southern Iraq doesn’t trust Sadrists’ pro-reform agenda, some wished to have a really independent electoral agency and having partisan-appointed BoC has made voting even less appealing among Iraqis. Although the quest to have more autonomous IHEC has been generally futile, the parliament issued a decision in October 2017 demanding the Judiciary oversee the vote. However, Higher Judiciary Council (HJC) informed IHEC it has no enough judges to cover all election centers. MarshToMountain will analyze the potential role of judiciary in May elections in the next Status of Elections Report.

IHEC In Deep Waters Ahead of May National Vote

IHEC faces an onerous task of organizing the Parliamentary elections in about three weeks. Initially, there had been clamorous debate over holding the parliamentary elections on their constitutional timeline and the exponents of postponement (mainly from Sunni and Kurdish parties) cited the issues of security and IDPs in the newly-liberated areas. Eventually, these attempts were failed and CoR ultimately issued the law of 2018 parliamentary elections after including articles that, theoretically, oblige the government to address the concerned parties’ fears on issues of IDPs and security. Iraq has a record of conducting elections in times of conflict post-2003, but many believe it was at the expense of fairness and competitiveness. Now that the vote reached advanced stages, IHEC has to practically deal with those issues as well as the challenge of implementing the electronic voting for the first time in the country.  IHEC is facing extraordinary political and logistical dilemmas and the way it would address them will significantly impact the ballot’s outcomes.

Dilemma #1: Introducing Electronic Vote

Parliamentary Election Law of 2018 stipulates that IHEC adopts Electronic Voting in conducting the electoral process. [1] It is the first time to implement the usage of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in Iraq (providing IHEC resisted calls of re-adopting the manual count). Most countries who came to use electronic voting started in one region then extended it nationally or alternatively tried it in a municipal ballot before employing it broadly. Many countries have employed EVMs and literature is mostly in favor of using electronic voting citing significant decline in electoral fraud and improvement in public trust in process. [2] Implementing Electronic Voting would be profoundly complicated in Iraq and there are already signs IHEC is not handling the process effectively. One big setback is the failure to make the process of biometric register consistent and thorough.

Reliability of the system

Some political alliances started questioning the viability of the new electoral regime citing perceived weak points in the system that may lead to rigging the elections. These parties claim the transmitting medium between various components of the system is prone to hacking for political purposes. There was a plan to have a third party testing the new regime but IHEC didn’t hire such a company which if done would have relatively assuaged doubts over EVMs credibility. IHEC alternatively decided to prepare for an measure in which the entity would have an international company conducting a mock customized ballot on April 20th to test the new system over 8000 electronic machines. It is yet to verify this test materialized.

Those fears/doubts are expressed mainly by SoL and Fateh, who urged to re-adopt the previous method of manual vote. IHEC has been under immense pressure to abandon EVMs method and it issued a decree to prepare its resources for the paper-based, manual method as a plan B, and it is yet to be clear whether this came to placate parties or the body really incubates the return to the previous method. The decree triggered a backlash among political and social actors who considered the move as part of an orchestrated efforts to get back to the old system. Consequently, IHEC issued an explanation claiming the mentioned decree was misunderstood and that it would make the manual count applicable only to verify the results coming out of the EVMs just in case a need to do so arises. Many politicians and observers warned that established parties which mastered fraudulent practices associated with the paper-based ballot are working to set the stage to sack the electronic vote. There were alarming speculations early in April that such parties plan to mess up with EVMs to compel IHEC to go with the manual method. A report also claimed 100 EVMs were ‘stolen’.

Hisham Al Hashimi, a security and well-informed expert, thinks that eventually, using the EVMs won’t materialize given the absence of ‘international guarantees’ demanded by major parties that EVMs are credible. Abjuring the electric voting method, however, would be an exceptionally perilous affair, something the current vulnerable balance won’t afford to encounter. Sadrists and Hikmah, among others, made it clear they won’t tolerate such a late change in elections settings, let alone the legal and economic costs of renouncing the usage of EVMs in such an advance stage. Independent observers started proposing measures for IHEC to conduct to ensure the new system’s outputs will be fair and effective. For instance, elections expert Adel Al-Lami proposes randomly picking 1000-1500 ballot boxes and manually recounting them and UN to take part in the procedure.

The situation is tense and open to many possibilities. We have a not-so-strong IHEC with a late coming BoCs that enjoys neither the popular and political trust nor the experience to implement a completely new system. eventually IHEC would probably manage to implement the electronic vote but in the process hesitant parties would blame EVMs for whatever discrepancies emerging during the elections. chaos would ineluctably erupt in logistical and political aspects of the elections especially in issues of IDPs vote and disputed territories. Even if IHEC did relatively well in those areas, those whose results come below their expectations would likely force a total manual recount with all associated risks.

Dilemma #2: IDPs Voting

According to IOM, there are 2.3M Internally Displaced Persons mostly in Ninawa, Kirkuk, and Anbar. IHEC struggles to make IDPs voting logistically and politically plausible. IDPs and disputed territories are expected to witness higher level of fraudulent electoral practices, along with homogeneous communities in peripherals.

UNAMI and some Iraqi parties advocated the adoption of the Special Conditional Voting (SCV) to address the challenges inherited in IDPs voting. Most IDPs didn’t update their electoral info and their situation hindered their ability to present adequate identification documents required in ballots. SCV generally involves allowing IDPs to vote after presenting one official ID along with their ration cards (Iraq’s electoral register is based on MoT database of ration cards) or a ration card number in case the voter lost it. These info is to be attached to the ballot paper so that employees of counting centers can verify them with the national electoral register.

End of report.

[1] IHEC customized electronic voting to run as follow: using Electronic Voting Machines (or EVMs) to administer the voting, count, register, and sending data into Thuraya Satellite. This satellite sends the data to its land station in UAE which in turn sends them via the Internet (VVBN) to the main electoral center in Baghdad. There would be large display screens in major venues (such as parliament) that display progress of count and results. According to them, results of elections would be out in only one day.

[2] Ravi, Shamika, et al (2017) Impact of Electronic Voting Machines on Electoral Fraud, Democracy & Development. Brookings Institute https://www.brookings.edu/research/working-paper-using-technology-to-strengthen-democracy/

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