Friday, March 26, 2010

Iraqi Election Update: Oh, Well

I am (seriously) interested in the Iraqi election results, and there was major news reported today: Prime Minister al-Maliki's State of Law group finished narrowly second, both in the national "popular vote" and in the Parliamentary seats announced today. The apparent leader in the voting is former P.M. Ayad Allawi (a secular Shiite) and his Iraqiya list which features many Sunnis.

The New York Times reported this news, and it included a very interesting and useful interactive graphic (click on the title of this post, or here, to view it). It was both interesting and useful, but it included some errors, which, with the help of Al-Jazeera's site, I can correct here. Four provinces' names were not given on the graphic: the one in the top in the Kurdish area is Suleymania, the one on the top which has none of the boxes filled in (the actual results appear to be 8 seats for Allawi's Iraqiya, 4 seats for the minor party Iraqi Unity) is Salahuddin, the one in the middle section with the votes closely divided among four or more parties is called Muthanna, and the one in the southern section is Wasit. Wasit? Yes, it was. Also, the one they are calling "Tamim" is generally referred to as "Kirkuk" (a very critical area, one whose parliamentary votes are evenly split between the Kurdish Alliance and Iraqiya).

Finally, the "Other seats" at the bottom have to do with seats allocated to religious minorities and to women, if necessary. From the graphic, it suggests there are 15 seats, of which seven were allocated to the four major party groups. The other eight, if they existed, would take the total seats to 333 rather than the 325 which all news reports have. The explanation is that the other eight seats were not allocated (at least at this stage), perhaps because enough women were elected through "natural" means. There is quite a complicated process for this, explained in English at this site posted by the Iraqi electoral commission.

OK, So What?
First, I credit Allawi's ability to create a credible political challenge to Maliki's grouping and even reach first place (results subject to challenge, review, and possible modification, of course) despite some efforts to suppress his efforts, including disqualification of many of its candidates. His group's appeal was truly national; a lot of the early reporting focused on how Maliki's group led in more provinces, but Allawi's group got seats in more provinces, including ones both in the north-center and the Shiite south. The fact that his list drew strong participation from Sunnis, and apparently some others as well, bodes well for the development of truly national parties, and for the chances to keep Sunni insurgency from bursting out once again. And, that has to be the most important objective of the elections, from our perspective in the US, and also that of most Iraqis.

Second, though the numerical allocation of seats among the parties was not that different from what I had anticipated in my election preview, it was different enough to change the picture substantially. The outcome may be the same--Maliki leading a coalition with parts of the Shiite Iraqi National Alliance and the major Kurdish parties--but the route to it is likely to be more tortuous, contentious, possibly even more violent, than we were hoping.

By normal Parliamentary protocol, Allawi will be given first shot at forming a government as leader of the party with the most seats. (That is, once the results are certified, which could itself take a while, both because the elections are so close, and because Maliki's governing party has every reason to challenge if there's any chance of gaining any ground.) Allawi is unlikely to be able to ally with any of the three other leading parties, though: Maliki's because he will prefer to lead the government himself, the Kurds because of their intense rivalry over the border Kurdish areas with the Sunnis, and the Iraqi National Alliance, because that group will presumably not want to ally with either Sunnis or secular Shiites.

Only after that effort has fully played out would Maliki have his chance. As I suggested previously, he will likely have good possibilities to ally with at least part of the Shiite Iraqi National Alliance, with the larger Kurdish parties (as he did before), and even, possibly, with Allawi's party. This latter development would probably the best for Iraqi's long-term stability, if it were to occur.

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