While the Howard government is working out how much it can get away
with in manipulating the electoral laws, here’s a story for the “things
could be worse” category.

Iraq will vote on 15 October in a referendum on its draft constitution,
strongly opposed by leaders of the Sunni minority. The electoral law
provides as follows: “The general referendum will be successful and the
draft constitution ratified if a majority of voters in Iraq approve and
if two-thirds of voters in three or more governorates do not reject it.”

In other words, to ensure broad support, the constitution can be
defeated in two ways: if there’s an overall majority against it, or if
a two-thirds majority votes against it in three or more governorates
(ie provinces).

The natural meaning of “voters” is “people who vote.” It could be taken
to mean “people registered to vote,” but in that case, a majority would
be much harder to get – if turnout was 60%, for example, five-sixths of
those would have to vote in favour to constitute a majority. So
supporters of the constitution wouldn’t want that interpretation, would
they?

Time for some creative thinking. The Iraqi parliament last weekend
decided that “voters” means one thing in the first half of the sentence
and something else in the second half. So the overall vote for approval
only requires a majority of those who vote, but the two-thirds
opposition test in three or more provinces will mean two-thirds of
registered voters – a virtual impossibility.

The story is reported in today’s Australian, but for the actual text of the law you have to go to The New York Times. It’s said there by “knowledgeable diplomats” that the Americans are unhappy with the change and “hoped it would be modified.”

Let’s hope Eric Abetz isn’t taking any lessons from the Iraqis.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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