A three-day workshop has concluded in Baghdad, which considered ways how to ensure the meaningful engagement of Iraqi women in elections.

The workshop on gender-responsive electoral processes, jointly organized by the Independent High Elections Commissions (IHEC) and UNAMI in collaboration with UNDP, was held within the context of UNAMI’s mandate to assist and advise IHEC on preparations for the 2020 local elections in Iraq.

The workshop looked at the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) and subsequent resolutions on promoting women’s full and active participation in political and electoral processes.

UNAMI Director of Electoral Assistance and Principal Electoral Advisor, Aamir Arain, urged the IHEC to strengthen the capacity of its gender team and formulate a gender policy.

Promoting an enabling environment that allows women to fully and actively participate in electoral processes is an important step towards ensuring women exercise their right to vote and contributes to stability and democracy,” Mr. Arain said.

The discussions highlighted challenges facing female candidates, including sexual harassment, poor media coverage, insufficient campaign funds, limited support from political parties, and social discrimination due to negative patriarchal attitudes.

It underlined the importance of the quota system to guarantee women’s representation, and the need for specific security measures and awareness to enable women to vote safely and freely, and a code of conduct to promote integrity in the overall electoral process.

Two former MPs who are members of the Women Advisory Group (WAG) shared their experiences as candidates in previous national legislative elections. Another WAG member described her previous work as a national elections observer.

The group was launched early 2019 to advocate for better representation of women in reconciliation and political processes amongst other concerns.

(Source: UN)

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

By Mustafa Habib.

Drama On Iraq’s Councils After Provincial Elections Are Cancelled Again

Conflict at federal level is complicating local politics too. Provincial elections have not been held for five years and council leadership no longer reflects the country’s new political reality.

In the weeks before the end of the year, Iraq’s provincial councillors saw plenty of drama. There were attempted dismissals of various governors, actual dismissals and political coups and in-fighting among state-level politicians.

In mid-December, a new governor was chosen for Baghdad by councillors representing parties at federal level. But then other councillors, representing opposition parties at federal level, chose a completely different new governor.

Members of two groups – the Sairoun alliance led by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the National Wisdom party, led by another cleric, Ammar al-Hakim – chose the first new governor. Then, provincial councillors from the parties that oppose those two groups stepped in and selected another candidate from their own ranks instead.

At this stage, the Iraqi president, Barham Saleh, intervened, refusing to ratify either candidate and referring the matter to the courts.

A similar situation arose in Basra where provincial council members who tried to elect a new governor were prevented from doing so by protestors outside the council buildings, who supported the sitting governor. The involvement of security staff meant that a vote could not be held. And in Najaf, the sitting governor there was also dismissed. More firings are expected in other Iraqi provinces too.

Why the drama? Because the country has not held provincial elections since 2013 and in many areas, the current provincial council does not reflect the contemporary political realities brought about by federal elections last year.

By rights, provincial elections to select local councillors should have been held in 2017. However the ongoing security crisis and the fight against the extremist group known as the Islamic State meant this was impossible. The federal government then decided to combine provincial elections with federal ones, to be held in May 2018, but again failed to do this.

The next date for the provincial elections was supposed to be December 22, 2018, but yet again the federal government – this time the new one headed by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi – decided not to hold them. A new date was not set and election authorities say it will be too difficult to hold provincial elections in 2019.

The Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, has not been working properly for the past few months because, ever since the May 2018 federal elections, there have been all sorts of other concerns, explains Hazem al-Rudaini, a member of IHEC.

“The debate about the integrity of the federal elections, the various appeals and the recounts overseen by a judicial authority,” al-Rudaini listed the reasons. “All of this has impacted on the Commission’s work and makes it impossible to hold the provincial elections anytime in the coming six months at least.”

Amendments to the laws and rules around provincial elections are being discussed by IHEC and relevant federal authorities and politicians, al-Rudaini said, but “all that will take time”.

In fact, senior members of IHEC have been summoned to parliament to discuss this issue because some of the provincial appointments are now unconstitutional – for example, a governor cannot be a sitting MP at the same time yet some are. Additionally, the provincial councils hardly reflect the outcome of the federal elections, which saw the al-Sadr-backed Sairoun alliance win the most votes. In fact, that is part of what has caused the recent problems: The winning political parties are forcing through new alliances at provincial level, that allow them to remove the sitting governors who belong to other now-less-popular parties.

“We refuse to allow the current provincial councils to carry on working,” Rami al-Sukaini, an MP for the Sairoun alliance, told NIQASH. “There are proposals now that allow them to keep working for the next six months, and others to remove them and give parliament the power of supervise provincial councils, until provincial elections can be held.”

By Omar Sattar for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

The Iraqi parliament lifted the freeze on the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) Nov. 10, over two weeks after provincial elections were scheduled to be held. Now, the fate of the provincial councils is once again at the center of debate in Iraq.

Parliament formed a commission on May 12 to investigate suspicions of fraud in the general elections. The IHEC’s work was frozen and placed under the tutelage of the judiciary.

Click here to read the full story.

SRSG Kubiš congratulates the IHEC Board of Judges on completion of the electoral recount and looks forward to a timely conclusion of the remaining stages of the electoral process

The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq, Mr. Ján Kubiš (pictured), welcomes today’s announcement by the Board of Judges of the Independent High Electoral Commission of the completion of the electoral recount in all 18 Iraqi governorates and also out-of-country voting.

SRSG Kubiš said:

I congratulate the Board of Judges on this important milestone towards the conclusion of Iraq’s 2018 electoral process.

“The timely, transparent, well-organised, credible conduct of the recount was made possible by the hands-on impartial work of the Board of Judges, and the dedication and professionalism of all recount staff, including Independent High Electoral Commission staff and judiciary personnel. The manner in which they have handled the recount has increased public confidence in the electoral process, and election results.

“I now encourage the Board of Judges and relevant state institutions to devote their attention to the timely announcement of provisional results and the speedy resolution of any outstanding appeals.

“Throughout the recount process, an experienced team of United Nations electoral experts has followed the process, providing advice and assistance. The United Nations remains available to provide further expert advice and assistance to the Board of Judges as they supervise the tabulation of recount results and all subsequent stages in certification of the results by the Federal Court.”

(Source: UN)

By John Lee.

The Iraqi parliament has ordered a nationwide manual recount of all votes from the parliamentary elections, following claims from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that there had been serious violations.

Iraq’s top judicial authority, the Supreme Judicial Council, will also take over the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), replacing the local heads in each of the provinces by judges.

Last month’s elections saw a low turnout, and an unexpected victory for Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

(Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters, AP)

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

Iraqis are heading out to the polls this week, and the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) said it is making sure everyone who is eligible to vote will have the opportunity. At the same time, IHEC says a new electronic, fingerprint-based voting system will keep out everyone who’s not eligible.

IHEC is opening polling stations on May 10-11 for Iraqis living outside the country and on May 12 for the 24 million potential voters inside Iraq. Officials have no estimate of how many Iraqis outside the country are expected to participate. The legislative election will be Iraq’s first since the Islamic State (IS) invaded in 2014. Baghdad has declared victory over IS, but more than 1 million Iraqis remain displaced in Iraqi camps.

In the elections, almost 7,000 candidates are competing in Iraq’s 19 provinces for 329 parliamentary seats. Some candidates launched their campaigning before April 10, which IHEC chairman Maan al-Hitawi told Al-Monitor violated the electoral rules.

Several complaints have been made so far to the IHEC regarding electoral rules violations. In March, all Iraqi political parties signed a UN Electoral Charter of Honor regarding campaigning. “The political blocs signed the charter,” Hitawi said, “but alas, they didn’t abide by it.”

Electoral rules violations aren’t surprising in countries such as Iraq, with no long history of democracy and elections. Most of Iraq’s political parties have presented no plans for how to improve the government, so they sometimes violate election rules, trying to gain an advantage over their rivals. Baghdad municipal officials noted several instances of parties hanging posters and banners where such signage isn’t allowed.

When such violations occur, offenders receive a warning. If they don’t remedy the situation within three days, they are fined 2 million dinars (about $1,700). Fines increase for repeat offenses. “If they violate the rules a fourth time, they will be excluded from the elections. So far, we have fined 100 candidates, but none were excluded,” Hitawi said.

Several prominent Sunni and Shiite figures, such as Atheel al-Nujaifi (Sunni) and Muqtada al-Sadr (Shiite), expressed concerns about the potential for more serious offenses such as vote-buying or misuse of voter ID cards. Some activists are even saying they expect massive fraud. But Hitawi said claims about rigged elections are baseless. “Our role in the IHEC is to get rid of any concerns, doubts or rumors about fraud. We have introduced technology to preserve the integrity of elections and reassure everyone that rigging them is impossible,” Hitawi said.

“Our teams have monitored the process and called on anyone who has proof of votes being bought to present [it], but so far no one has filed a complaint or submitted any document proving that candidates are buying votes or voter [IDs],” he added.

There was evidence that IS intended to interfere with elections. IS claimed responsibility for the killing of Farough al-Jobouri, a candidate from al-Watania Coalition, on May 7. Also, the Iraqi intelligence agency double-checked electoral data in Mosul after some refugees returned there. Hitawi said agents found IS affiliates listed in the records and “ended up revoking 20,000 electoral [ID] cards.”

Such diligence should allow elections in Mosul to proceed normally, the same as in other provinces, he said. There are 2.3 million citizens in Mosul eligible to vote.

Across the nation, Hitawi anticipates that 50% to 60% of eligible voters will participate in the election. That projection is similar to figures for the 2014 elections, when 60% participated. However, the battered economy in Iraq and widespread criticism of the government and parliament might affect that rate significantly.

Activists have called for election boycotts because many would-be voters remain displaced. Also, some clerics have declared that just stepping into a polling station would be a sin, as voters’ presence would help cover up corruption and vote-rigging.

So far, only 48% of the 24 million voters in Iraq have updated their ID cards as had been required, according to the head of IHEC. But to increase the voting rate, IHEC announced it will accept old cards as well, “because 24 million voter cards cannot be updated in a short time; it would take years,” Hitawi said.

Among all Iraqi voters, 400,000 internally displaced persons are eligible to vote. Hitawi said IHEC is prepared and employees will have voting equipment ready in areas where the displaced are staying.

For the first time, Iraq is using an electronic voting system. IHEC paid $135 million for the Miru system from South Korea. There have been several complaints about this system, as some Iraqi figures claim that it’s not trustworthy and the server can be hacked by foreign countries.

But Hitawi disagrees. Miru was selected from among nine international companies that submitted tenders. Miru met the conditions and specifications, and UN technology experts confirmed that Miru has what Iraq needs for a successful election process.

The Miru server is in Baghdad at IHEC headquarters. Hitawi believes the data is fully encrypted and protected. “No hacker will be able to reach the carrier because they would need over 240 hours of continuous work to decrypt over 2,000 [programming] codes. They won’t be able to do anything, especially since it takes the data only one hour to travel from earth stations and reach the carrier through satellites, which is not enough time for hackers to get in,” Hitawi said.

There will be 56,000 polling stations. More than 250,000 mostly temporary IHEC employees will run the election. Hitawi is confident that the Miru system will prevent any human intervention or manipulation at polling stations.

“The electronic devices will be counting and sorting at the polling stations without any human intervention, so forgery is impossible — and those who claim the elections are rigged only want to undermine the IHEC and are possibly driven by internal and external parties that have no interest in holding the elections,” Hitawi said.

IHEC has sent more than 200 invitations to international organizations and foreign electoral bodies to come to Iraq and observe the elections, in addition to the embassies and international organizations operating in Iraq. Around 900 international observers have so far requested accreditation, Hitawi said. Also, IHEC has approved more than 200 journalists from outside of Iraq to cover the elections.

IHEC will announce the preliminary results within 48 hours, as it only needs 24 hours to receive all data from polling stations inside and outside of Iraq, according to Hitawi.

UNDP and UNAMI works with Iraqi High Elections Commission (IHEC) on gender mainstreaming in Iraq’s elections

20 participants from IHEC’s gender unit participated in the first of a series of capacity building activites planned to support IHEC in the period leading up to the upcoming elections.

The workshop, jointly organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNAMI, in cooperation with IHEC, aimed at enhancing the capacities of the gender team to promote greater political participation of women in elections both as candidates and as voters.

IHEC Chairperson Mr. Maan Al-Hitawi said:

“We believe that women are not only half of population but are the whole society, that is why the strategy of the Council of Commisioner is focusing on supporting the gender team as central part of IHEC structure”.

Speaking on behalf of UNAMI, DSRSG Ms. Alice Walpole opened the workshop and said:

Women’s political participation in Iraq is characterized by progress as well as setbacks. In terms of numerical representation at national and local governance levels, Iraq has some of the highest rates globally.

“The significant representation of women in Iraq’s Council of Representatives (CoR) is largely attributable to the use of a quota (25%), I welcome the recent formation of the IHEC Gender committee aimed at mainstreaming women’s participation throughout the several phases of the electoral process, devising tailor made interventions and promoting gender equality within IHEC’s internal structures, procedures and policies”

Speaking on behalf of UNDP, Country Director Mr.  Mounir Tabet said:

“The gender gap is one of the main issues that UNDP took into consideration in developing its support for the delivery of free, fair and transparent elections. We are aiming to fully support IHEC’s gender engagement strategy and to empower the role of women in elections as candidates, political activists, voters, CSO actors, throughout the electoral cycle”.

Facilitated by UNDP’s gender specialist, the workshop reviewed the electoral processes from a gender perspective, referring to the importance of building gender classified data and to learn from good practices of promoting women participation in electoral processes.

After the workshop, participants will hold a one-day meeting targeting gender units in line ministries in order to collaborate and coordinate efforts of raising awareness of women and men in the public sector and encouraging more active participation in the elections.

Additional workshops will be facilitated by UNDP and IHEC’s gender team at the national and provincial levels. These workshops will also suppot the gender unit to conduct a review of election materials from a gender perspective and to help the team establish a social media platform to promote greater participation of women in the upcoming elections.

UNDP and UNAMI are jontly planning to support IHEC’s gender team  activities In priority areas of gender mainstreaming the election process with focusing on encouraging active women participation in election and enhacing capacities of IHEC’s gender focal point in governorates to ensure gender mainstreaming in electoral process.

(Source: UNDP)

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

A record 30 Iraqi journalists and media figures have entered the political arena and presented their candidacies for the May 12 parliamentary elections, joining a variety of blocs and lists.

Though not all the candidates have yet announced their participation publicly, the High Electoral Commission lists has revealed the list of registered names, which include some women working in journalism. They all aspire to join parliamentarian Sarwa Abdul Wahid of the Change Party, who once worked for the American AlHurra TV.

Many of these candidates will be listed as independents.

Manal Almotasim is one journalist who aspires to reach the Iraqi parliament. Almotasim, who has worked for a decade in the Iraqi media and has presented various political TV programs, decided to brave the political world and join the Qarar al-Iraqi coalition headed by Sunni businessman Khamis al-Khanjar.

Almotasim has a good number of fans thanks to her work in the media and her presence on the screen. She told Al-Monitor, “Those who like me as a journalist might not want me in the political world that they are so fed up with. … At the same time, my audience might get me to the parliament.”

She added, “If I do not succeed, it would not mean that I will stop pursuing my career in media. It would be an experience like any other.”

Prominent journalist Ahmed Mulla Talal previously competed in two elections — in 2010 with the Supreme Council led by Ammar al-Hakim and again in 2014 with Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition. This time, Talal is running with the Al-Madani Party, which is funded by the director of Al-Huda bank, Hamad al-Moussawi.

Al-Madani is also fielding journalist Hadee Jalo Maree, who often criticizes politicians on social media. Maree told Al-Monitor that reporters and journalists are entering politics like doctors and intellectuals have done in the past, saying they’re working to change the makeup of the political class that tends to only represent certain sects.

He added that while not all the new candidates will make it into the government, “the point is to try and change the existing national, sectarian and religious approach in qualifying electoral candidates.”

Not everyone is pulling for this new class of candidates. Ziad Ojeili, head of the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Iraq, does not believe that journalists should run for election.

“Journalists would lose popular support if they win, as they would become the politicians they have been criticizing for the entirety of their career,” Ziad Ojeili said, though history shows that it is difficult for any candidate to reach parliament if not through the sectarian pipelines that have supplied parliament members for the past 14 years.

Ojeili told Al-Monitor, “Running in elections is everyone’s right, and journalists are part of the political world. … But a successful journalist might not be a successful politician. People need journalists to act as their voice, not as politicians.”

These candidates are distributed across many blocs. Some are running with the Popular Mobilization Units, such as famous TV presenter Wajih Abbas, whose program on Sadrist Al-Ahd TV was very popular, while others like Falluja TV presenter Omar al-Jamal have joined al-Qarar al-Iraqi bloc, which considers the PMU a terrorist group.

(Picture credit: Essam al-Sudani)

On November 1, the Iraqi cabinet set the date for the upcoming parliamentary election as May 15, 2018.

In a statement, the cabinet said that the federal government would be responsible for providing a secure environment to hold the elections and help displaced persons return to their districts for the elections, electronic voting will also be available.

The statement also said that political entities associated with armed militias or factions would not be allowed to take part in the election.

Last week, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) set a potential date of May 12, 2018 for the elections, subject to confirmation by the Iraqi parliament.

In a subsequent statement, Parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Jabouri announced his support for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s stance in barring political entities associated with militia groups from participating in next year’s election.

He stated that such ‘entities’ must not be allowed to participate in the national elections, as they will “impose their political presence by force and terror”.

(Source: GardaWorld)

Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has put forward the date of May 12, 2018 for the Iraqi parliamentary election.

The IHEC’s Board of Commissioners suggests for the Council of Ministers to set Saturday, 12 May 2018, a date for the election of the Council of Representatives for its fourth electoral term,” according to an IHEC statement reported on October 22.

The initial date for the elections had been set for early April according to previous reports.

(Source: GardaWorld)