Chances of Consensus on Sainte-Laguë Electoral System in Iraq

Position Assessment |This Position Assessment examines the controversy surrounding the proposal to adopt the Sainte-Laguë mechanism for the Iraqi Electoral Law. The mechanism was previously used in the 2014 and 2018 elections, but was later stopped by the law implemented in 2020. The assessment assumes that the current political climate in Iraq presents an opportunity for the State Administration Coalition to introduce a new electoral law.

by Dr. Adnan Al-Rubaie
  • Release Date – Mar 26, 2023

Rediscussing the Electoral Law in the Iraqi House of Representatives revived the renewed debate over the Sainte-Laguë system, which, if approved by House of Representatives, would reinstate the single electoral district for each governorate, abolishing the formula of dividing governorates into multiple electoral districts, as applied in the 2021 elections.

The justifications for amending the Electoral Law came after an instability that Iraq has witnessed following the 2021 elections, ensued by a political stalemate after the dispute between the forces of the Coordinative Framework and their counterparts in the "Saving the Homeland" Coalition, as the latter insisted on its proposal to form a majority government having won the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, while the Coordinative Framework rejected such proposal, proposing the "consensus government" instead. All this was took place before al-Sadr announced his retirement from political life, and also before establishing the "State Administration" Coalition, which agreed to name Muhammad Shaia'a al-Sudani as prime minister, succeeding Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Back to the Sainte Lego Controversy

Once again, the large political blocs in the Iraqi House of Representatives: the State Administration Coalition, which includes (al-Fatah Alliance, State of Law Coalition, Sovereignty Alliance, Kurdistan Democratic Party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Azm Alliance, and Christian Babylon), as well as the Independents, returned to talk about amending the Electoral Law and the electoral districts, to be according to the Sainte-Laguë system, and with an electoral quotient of (1.9).

The State Administration parties see that adopting Sainte-Laguë system is the most appropriate procedure for the situation in Iraq, as it makes the country avoid the failures of previous elections, and also avoid wasting a big deal of votes. On the other hand, some Independents object amending the Electoral Law, as they believe is a circumvention to reduce the chances of small parties in House of Representatives. The Independents and small blocs see the Sainte-Laguë system is a gateway for the traditional political parties and blocs to be dominant over small parties. They also see that the proposal to return to Sainte-Laguë system came after the opposition forces managed to reach the House of Representatives in the 2021 elections, crowding out the traditional forces.

In fact, reproposing Sainte-Laguë system revives the problem of consensus on a stable Electoral Law, a problem that dated back to the first House of Parliamentary elections of current political system, set in 2005. The Electoral Law was replaced several times, in each time the political forces and blocs tried to cope with such changes. There were also popular and political objections issued by some of the affected blocs. However, there was a balanced discourse calling for consistency in the laws that affect the democratic and the electoral processes, and that such laws should never be changed under any circumstances, nor that they would be changed upon to the requirements of any party. 

Transformations of the Electoral System in Iraq

Iraq experienced several transformations in its Electoral Law, at the level of the system, districts and the method of counting votes. Iraq has long been a single electoral district in 2005, but the Electoral Law was amended to make each governorate be an electoral district, while the seats were allocated proportionally with the population percentage. This Law was applied in the elections of (2010, 2014 and 2018), with an amendment regarding the mechanism of distributing voters in 2014, when the Sainte-Laguë system was adopted for the first time with an Iraqi amendment to it, where Iraq adopted electoral quotient (1.6) instead of the globally applied electoral quotient (1.4), this raised the chances of traditional forces to control the House of Representatives at the expense of smaller forces and parties.

Accordingly, the changes that took place in the Electoral Law, since the first Iraqi Parliamentary elections in 2005 are as follows:

1- Adopting the system of single electoral district in the 2005 National Assembly elections. Such system was adopted due to the lack of statistical data from the Iraqi governorates. The advantage of such system is that it preserves votes, and that is represents small groups scattered throughout Iraq.

2- In the elections (2010, 2014 and 2018), the Elections Law No. (16) of 2006 and its amendments were adopted, in which each governorate became a single electoral district, with a number of seats proportional to the population in the governorate, according to the statistics from the Ministry of Commerce.

3- In the 2014 elections, the Sainte-Laguë system for counting votes was adopted, before adopting it was abolished in 2020. Iraq adopted an electoral quotient of (1.5) in 2014, while such electoral quotient was (1.7) in 2018. The globally applied electoral quotient is (1.4). This rise in electoral quotient between 2014 and 2018 enhanced the chances of the traditional forces to control the House of Representatives, at the expense of smaller forces and parties.

4- In the 2014 elections, the Sainte-Laguë system for counting votes was adopted, before working pursuant to it was stopped in the 2020 elections, in favor of adopting the Electoral Law No. (9) of 2020, in which the governorates were divided into multiple electoral districts, then votes were counted according to the individual election system and to the candidate who obtained the highest votes, in order to ensure that all votes are equal reaching small areas, after protests demanded a radical change in the political scene.

The Opportunity Available to Amend the Electoral Law

Some forces, in State Administration Coalition, consider that the political arena today is ready to amend the Electoral Law. On the one hand, the opposition forces of Tishreen are losing their protest momentum, with no indications that changing the Electoral Law would affect the Sadrist movement. Some Independents are engaged with State Administration Coalition in negotiations aiming to reach compromises on enacting the next Electoral Law.

First: Protest Momentum Retrocession

Tishreen opposition forces’ protests lost much of their momentum, the return of their strength they had in 2019 is unlikely for several reasons, the most important of which is that the young actors were frustrated with the high expectations if compared to the results achieved. In addition, Tishreen parties, which were formed after the protest, are not in line with the great ambitions that were born in the squares of protests. Parties in Tishreen are currently negotiating with the political blocs on the Election Law, which means that Tishreen chose negotiations, not protests. 

Second: Al-Sadr and the Electoral Law

The Electoral Law may not have the same effect on al-Sadr, as in the case of other opposition forces, as al-Sadr has massive grassroots that enabled him to adapt to all previous electoral laws, whether single-district, multi-districts, and Sainte-Laguë system.

In addition, the State Administration Coalition used a gradual method in presenting the Electoral Law, starting with media promotion, then moving to the stage of interpreting such Law in the House of Representatives, with the aim of measuring the reactions of the Sadrists, and then addressing such reactions.

Due to the said reasons, the probability that the Sadrists will object the new Electoral Law, has decreased, the matter that gives strong chances for approving the new Electoral law, whether in the announced form, or in a form close thereto.

Third: The Independents are Negotiating to Improve the Electoral Law

A number of MPs and political parties, who call themselves “the Independents” are engaged in negotiations with the State Administration Coalition parties on the new Electoral Law. This can be understood as a principled acceptance on the State Administration Coalition steps in passing the Electoral Law, increasing the chances of reaching a common formula that is acceptable to the Independents.


All these indications show that the Electoral Law is on the way to be passed in the House of Representatives, with a number of proposals recommending adopting a part of such Law, as follows:

- The first proposal is put forward by some institutions concerned with ensuring the greatest possible consensus on the Electoral Law. Theses institutions proposed that two lists should be formed: the first in which the list would be elected, so as to satisfy the large parties, and the second for individual elections so as to satisfy the Independents and small parties. That proposal was not accepted, and was rejected.

- The second proposal is to decrease the Sainte-Laguë electoral quotient from 1.9 to be 1.4, in order to ensure that there are great chances for both small and large parties. This proposal has faced opposition from the State Administration Coalition, and it was hard to be passed.

- The negotiations indicate a convergence in reducing the electoral quotient to (1.6), in line with the demands of the large blocs. It seems that these negotiations have not been completed, evidenced by proposing the electoral quotient before the House of Representatives in the previous electoral quotient of (1.9).

- There is a consensus that each governorate should be a single electoral district. There is no major objection to it.

Challenges for the Sainte-Laguë Track

Despite the Parliamentary control enjoyed by the State Administration Coalition (approximately 275 deputies out of 390in House of Representatives) but passing that Electoral Law was proceeding slowly due to several reasons:

First: there is a fear of protests to return. These fears are that such protests may obtain support from a wide range of civilians and emerging parties.

Second: fearing the Sadrist movement's return to mass protest, whose grassroots are among the most numerous and influential.

Third: Although the State Administration Coalition has a majority of seats in House of Representatives, but this does not the Coalition the full legitimacy, especially after the withdrawal of the Sadrists from the House of Representatives, taking into consideration the participation rate in the elections, which was estimated at only 20% of the votes.

Fourth: Avoiding facing international objections, which often emphasize on issues of democracy and human rights.

Fifth: trying not to interrupt the path of the current government, which seeks to achieve tangible achievements for citizens.

Sixth: There is no full consensus within the State Administration Coalition on the Electoral Law, as there are objections issued by some Kurdish deputies, as well as Sunnis, to the new amendment.

* The opinions expressed in this study are those of the author. Strategiecs shall bear no responsibility for the views and/or opinion of its author on security, economic, social, and other issues, as they do not necessarily represent the views of the Think Tank.

Dr. Adnan Al-Rubaie

Researcher in Iraqi political affairs