Minorities are the losers

Iraq’s Supreme Court decision disrupts minority electoral representation

Katja Dorothea Buck

Iraq is home to many different ethnicities and religious communities. To ensure that minorities are also politically represented, the Iraqi constitution guarantees them quota seats. This also applies to the Kurdistan Regional Parliament. However, the Supreme Court has now abolished the quota system for this parliament. An election boycott is imminent.

The decision of the Supreme Court in Baghdad was perceived as a loud bang in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The long overdue parliamentary elections were supposed to have taken place there at the end of February. However, a few days before election day, the Supreme Court of Iraq declared the quota system unconstitutional. Until now, eleven of the 111 seats in the regional parliament have been reserved for religious and ethnic minorities, five for Christians, five for the Turkmen community and one for the Armenian community. These seats are now to be abolished.

The Supreme Court’s decision was triggered by a complaint from one of the two major Kurdish parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which hopes to benefit from the removal of the minority seats. Until now, the eleven minority representatives have generally voted with the other major party, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP).

With its decision, the Supreme Court has now ruled in favor of the PUK. The losers are not only the KDP, but above all the minorities. This is why the Christian and Turkmen parties, together with the KDP, have now announced their intention to boycott the next elections. This would affect more than half of the three million eligible voters.

Minority representatives are both concerned and outraged by the Supreme Court’s decision. The ruling harms democracy, the culture of coexistence among minorities and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, says parliamentary spokeswoman Muna Kahveci from the Turkmen Reform Party in an interview. “The verdict is politically motivated and undermines the election law passed by the Kurdistan Region of Iraq’s parliament in 1992.”

Romeo Hakari from the Assyrian Bet Nahrain Party also sees it this way. “There are political motives behind the Supreme Court’s decision. This is a retreat from democracy.” The conflict between the two Kurdish parties is the driving force behind the ruling. It is “oppressive and unconstitutional” and represents a “violation of minority rights”

Romeo Hakari (left) and Muna Kahveci (right)

In addition to the Iraqi President and Prime Minister, Kahveci now also sees the need for foreign countries to take action. “The international community has a duty not to let this injustice pass. The rights of the Turkmen and the Christians, the two most important peoples in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, are being violated.” Elections could not take place under these conditions.

A new parliament should actually have been elected at the end of the four-year legislative period in 2022. Due to the disputes between the KDP and PUK over the election law, the election was first postponed to November 2023 and then again to the end of February 2024. The Supreme Court has now pre-empted this with a ruling. At the same time, it has announced that the next elections are to be organized by the Iraqi and not the Kurdistan election commission. And they have to take place by the beginning of July at the latest, because the government and the president only have an executive mandate for that long.

What happens next is completely open. The dispute over minority seats is nothing new in Iraq. The 2005 constitution stipulates a quota system for minorities. Even with the 9 of the 329 seats in the Iraqi parliament, there is repeated criticism that the respective representatives are bought and do not have the actual interests of the respective minority in mind. Critics are therefore calling for their fundamental abolition, pointing out that Iraq is a democracy and that politics should not be based on religious or ethnic affiliation, but solely on political parties. After all, these are open to all.

“In the long term, it is certainly a desirable scenario that minorities are such a natural part of society that their rights no longer have to be protected by a quota system “, says David Müller, who is advisor on religious freedom in Iraq for the ojcos foundation. However, Iraq is not yet ready. The quota system has a pacifying and participatory function for coexistence in the multi-ethnic state of Iraq.

An Assyrian Christian woman from Erbil sums it up for herself. “Even if the Christian representatives in the regional parliament may not always represent my interests, it makes a difference to me as a Christian whether these seats exist or not. They are proof that we belong here and can have a future,” she says on the phone. If these seats no longer exist, what will keep Christians and other minorities here? She fears that even more Christians will leave Iraq as a result. Since 2003, their number has fallen from 1.5 million to just under 200,000.

The original article was published here in German. Translated and reprinted with the kind permission of the author.

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