Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Iraqi Election: Winners Rejoice, but Talk to Losers

Although the Shia-dominated bloc got nearly half the vote, it still needs allies to prevent deadlock in parliament.
By Zaineb Naji

The Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance is looking around for coalition partners after it won nearly half the vote in Iraq’s national elections. Both Shia and Kurdish groups – the other main winner – say they are looking for ways to include the Sunnis in the political process.

The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq announced on February 13 that the Alliance, which was organised at the behest of the country’s senior Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, received more than four million votes - 48 per cent of the 8.4 million ballots cast.

As expected, this figure – high though it is – does not give the bloc the two-thirds majority it would need to govern without a coalition partner.

Mofaq Rubai, one of the United Iraqi Alliance’s candidates, described the results as a “feast” which gave “a reason for Iraqis to celebrate from Kurdistan to Basra”.

“The power now lies in the hands of the people, and the 275 members of parliament will decide Iraq’s destiny,” he said.

The results are still provisional, as parties and candidates have three days to file complaints or appeal against the results before the outcome can be regarded as official.

The Kurdish Alliance List, made up of the two major Kurdish parties, came in second with 26 per cent of the vote, or more than 2.17 million ballots. This virtually assures the Kurds of a top government post.

In Sulaimaniyah, one of the regional capitals of Iraqi Kurdistan, residents celebrated the results by firing into the air.

“The results are very good and it strengthens the Kurdish position so that it corresponds with the situation in Iraq,” said Nawsheerwan Mustafa, a political bureau member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, one of the main Kurdish parties in the Alliance.

The results mean that the Shias and Kurds, two groups that were oppressed under Saddam Hussein, will now hold the balance of power.

In third place was the Iraqi List, led by interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, which received more than 1.16 million ballots, 13.8 per cent of the vote,. Allawi has presented himself as the secular Shia alternative to the United Iraqi Alliance.

Raja al-Khazay, a candidate on the Iraqi List, said the results were disappointing. “There are a lot of good politicians who won’t get seats in parliament,” she said.

Each bloc list or party will be awarded seats in the 275-member transitional National Assembly in approximate proportion to its share of the national vote. That means the United Iraqi Alliance will get at least 132 seats, the Kurds 71 or more, and the Iraqi List at least 38 seats.

A two-thirds majority, or 183 seats, is needed to approve crucial issues before the National Assembly, including the approval of a prime minister and of a draft constitution, which will be the parliaments main duty.

Under the interim constitution, the National Assembly has to appoint a president and two vice-presidents. In turn, the president and his deputies will choose a party or coalition to nominate a prime minister and form a government. The assembly also has to approve the cabinet.

Although the final results have only just been announced, parties and coalitions have been angling for positions in the new government since the January 30 election. In the last two weeks, the main Shia, Kurdish and Sunni parties have been meeting to hammer out deals.

The United Iraqi Alliance says it wants the post of prime minister, and has suggested current finance minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and vice-president Ibrahim Jaafari as candidates for the job. The two men belong to the two main Shia political forces - Mahdi is from the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, while Jaafari belongs to the Islamic Dawa Party.

“There is no competition between the parties but there are negotiations,” said Rubai. “The issue is not individuals, but politics and strategies. So the strategy for the new Iraq is a federal and united Iraq that covers everybody.”

Meanwhile, the Kurdish Alliance List has been pushing for PUK leader Jalal Talabani to be president. The PUK controls the eastern part of Iraqi Kurdistan while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the KDP, reigns over the western portion.

Al-Khazay said the Iraqi List would try to maximise its position by forming coalitions with the Kurds, with al-Iraqiyun (“the Iraqis”), a Sunni party headed by interim President Ghazi al-Yawar, and with the People’s Union, a bloc whose principal constituent is the Iraqi Communist Party.

Al-Iraqiyun is set to receive about five seats, while the People’s Union should get two.

Of the estimated 14 million eligible voters, around 60 per cent turned out for the elections.

But, as expected, many Sunni Arabs stayed at home either to boycott the vote or out of fear.

Turnout for the Sunni Arab community, which accounts for about a fifth of Iraq’s population, was much lower than the average. In the western province of Anbar, the mainly Sunni province where the volatile cities of Fallujah and Ramadi are located, only two per cent of voters came to the polls. Turnout in the northern province of Ninewa, which includes the troubled city of Mosul, was about 17 per cent for the National Assembly ballot (separate provincial elections were held across Iraq the same day).

Mishan al-Jabouri, head of the Liberation and Reconciliation Front, a secular Sunni party, said he was not satisfied with the election results. His party received more than 30,000 votes, which should translate into one parliamentary seat.

“These votes do not represent the people’s will,” said al-Jabouri. “These are fake elections, which produced this abnormal result.”

Both the Kurds and the Shias say they want the Sunni Arabs to be represented in the new political set-up. It has been suggested that the one of the top positions – that of speaker of parliament – could go to the Sunnis.

Rubai, of the United Iraqi Alliance, said the Sunnis could not be left out or marginalised, because as such a significant part of the population, they have a major role to play in establishing the state.

Zaineb Naji and Talar Nadir are IWPR trainee reporters in Iraq.

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