05/29/2021 Iraq (International Christian Concern) – Iraq candidates are preparing for the next parliamentary elections in October. By one report, 3,500 candidates have placed their names in the running for 325 seats. Of those, at least 34 Christian candidates are on the electoral lists. A minimum of five quota seats are reserved for Christian minorities, allocated to Baghdad, Kirkuk, Erbil, Dohuk, and Nineveh.
Recent changes by Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) means that Iraqi citizens abroad will no longer be able to participate in the elections. Many Iraqis voiced support of the decision, arguing that the diaspora should not make decisions for a country they do not reside in. Assyrians make up nearly 40% of the Iraq War refugees. Once numbering 1.5 million in 2003, Assyrians now total around 142,000 today, leaving many Assyrians in the diaspora.
A Newsweek opinion article by Neil Joseph Nakkash outlines the disadvantages of disqualifying expatriate Assyrians from voting in the upcoming elections. Nakkash argues that Assyrians still residing in Iraq rely on those in the diaspora to advocate on their behalf internationally as well as voting for Assyrian candidates in the elections. He continues to say that the five seats allocated for Christians are insufficient in parliament because of loopholes that allow Assyrians to be exploited.
Because non-Christian citizens can vote for Christian candidates, other major Iraqi political parties seize this as an opportunity to secure more seats while still abiding by the Christian requirement. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Badr Organization are two parties identified by Nakkash as one who utilizes this tactic. Both parties are predominately Muslim and have historically restricted Assyrians in varying ways. Though Christian leaders are still elected to the allocated seats, Assyrians rarely vote for these candidates.
Without the voice of the Assyrian diaspora, Nakkash argues that Assyrians are more likely to be disenfranchised in the upcoming election. Regardless, with very few Christians remaining in Iraq, Christian voters are drastically reduced with the IHEC regulations. Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Region President promises to protect the rights of Christians in the formation of the region’s constitution.
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