The Right Coast

February 13, 2005
Supermajority Rules in Iraq
By Mike Rappaport

Despite claims to the contrary, the results of the election in Iraq mean that the Shiites will have to negotiate and compromise with the Kurds and other secular groups to form a government. This fortunate result is largely due to the use of supermajority rules. According to the New York Times:

Iraqi leaders predicted Sunday that the Shiite alliance would try to form a "national unity government," containing Kurdish and Sunni leaders, as well as secular Shiites, possibly including the current prime minister, Ayad Allawi. Such a leadership would all but ensure that no decisions would be taken without a broad national consensus.

The main factor ensuring a relatively cautious Shiite majority is the complicated mechanism controlling the formation of the government. Under the rules, the prime minister will be selected by a president and two deputies, who must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the assembly. Practically speaking, that means the prime minister will have to be approved by a two-thirds vote. The Shiite alliance has nowhere near that many seats.
As John McGinnis and I have argued, supermajority rules are an important mechanism for promoting decisions by consensus. Their use in this context in Iraq seems quite beneficial.

Update: Tom Chatt at Upword has some interesting thoughts on supermajority rules.