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Iraq’s top court revokes minority quota seats in Kurdistan

Iraq's top court declares Iraqi Kurdistan parliament's minority quota seats 'unconstitutional'
4 min read
23 February, 2024
Iraq's top court's decision to revoke the minority quota in Kurdistan is seen as unfair and politically biased. Critics argue it's unconstitutional.
The court's ruling stated that the Kurdistan region's parliament should consist of 100 lawmakers, after terminating 11 seats for the ethnic minorities. [Getty]

On Wednesday, Iraq's Supreme Federal Court ruled that the Kurdistan Region parliament's minority quota seats are "unconstitutional". The court also obligated the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to hand over all oil and non-oil revenues to Baghdad and said the Iraqi federal government must pay the salaries of the KRG civil servants.

The court's ruling stated that the Kurdistan region's parliament consists of 100 lawmakers, thus terminating the existence of eleven quota seats for the Turkmen, Christians and Armenian minorities in the region that have been enacted in the legislature since 1992. 

The court's decision stemmed from lawsuits filed by politicians from the ruling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), challenging the constitutionality of the Kurdistan region's election Law 1 of 1992, particularly the provision allocating 11 seats to minorities under a quota system. The court ruled that this provision, along with others, was unconstitutional.

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Furthermore, the court ruled that Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) would replace the Kurdistan region's electoral commission to oversee the upcoming general elections in the region. The elections are expected to be held by late June. The President of the Kurdistan region, Nechirvan Barzani, is expected to announce a new election day soon in coordination with IHEC. 

Elections in Iraqi Kurdistan had been scheduled for late 2022. Still, disputes between its two main parties — the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) — forced the assembly to extend its mandate until the end of 2023.

However, the  Court on May 23 ruled against extending the term of the Kurdistan region's parliament as contrary to the country's constitution, declaring the Kurdish legislature as terminated.

 The court also revoked Article 9 in the region's election law, which asserted that the Kurdistan region constitutes a single electoral constituency as "unconstitutional." The court mandated the division of the region into "at least four electoral constituencies."

Additionally, the court decided that all political parties and entities must reserve a quota for women, comprising no less than thirty per cent of their total number of election candidates. This quota is to be enforced after the parliament elections. 

Iraq's top court decisions are final and binding for all authorities nationwide.

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Different Reactions 

While the PUK and all opposition parties in the region welcomed the court's decisions, Masoud Barzani's ruling the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and parties representing the minorities have rejected the verdicts and described them as "unconstitutional".  

The KDP is often accused by PUK and the opposition parties of manipulating the minorities' quota through a carrot-and-stick policy. In all past elections held in the region, all the seats were allocated to Erbil province, while there are minority populations in other Kurdish provinces.

The KDP Political Bureau met on Thursday, 22 February, and made several decisions, including describing the decisions by Iraq's top court as "contrary to the spirit of the constitution and the constitutional rights of the Kurdistan Region and the principles of federalism."

The party also stressed it would "defend the rights of minorities and support them in participating and partnering in constitutional institutions."

The party indicated amendments to some of the articles of the Kurdistan region's election law by the court, which "contradicts the constitution and the nature of the separation of powers."

"The decision by Iraq's top court for revoking the quota for minorities in the Kurdistan region was politically motivated and unfair," Aydin Maruf Selim, KRG Minister of State for Minority Affairs and politburo member in the Turkmen Front told The New Arab. "The court's decision is unconstitutional and contradictory as the quota system in Iraq remains as it is, but the court has revoked the quota in the region."       

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Ayden said they would participate in the region's upcoming parliamentary elections with their independent list and asserted they would win seats even without the quota system.  

Aram Jamal, a Kurdish election expert in the Kurdistan region, stated to TNA that the court's decision would significantly alter the region's political landscape, ending the previous situation where a specific Kurdish political party exploited the minority quota for political gains. 

He noted that no political party in the region could secure a majority-led government anymore, and winning parties would be compelled to form ruling coalitions. 

Additionally, he highlighted the possibility that some Iraqi political factions might lodge similar complaints with the court to challenge the minority quota in Iraq. He clarified that the minority quota would remain in effect in Iraq unless overturned by the Supreme Federal Court.