Tight Election Race Emerging

State of Law and Iraqiya blocs appear neck-and-neck as initial elections results released. By Ali Kareem and Ali Abu Iraq in Baghdad and Basra

Tight Election Race Emerging

State of Law and Iraqiya blocs appear neck-and-neck as initial elections results released. By Ali Kareem and Ali Abu Iraq in Baghdad and Basra

Preliminary results from Iraq's national elections indicate the emergence of a tight two-way race between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law coalition and the Iraqiya bloc led by former premier Iyad Allawi.

But despite the early success of Maliki, a nationalist Shia, and Allawi, a secular Shia, experts aren't ready to assume the two frontrunners will be automatically nominated for top government slots.

And with neither coalition expected to win an outright majority, analysts still predict a period of political horse-trading among members of the 325-seat parliament.

Poll results representing 89 per cent of the ballots cast were released this week by Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission, IHEC. The ballot has been marred by fraud allegations, but the commission said the complaints were not serious enough to reverse the results. [See: Election Commission Role Attacked]

Although final results are not expected to be made public until the end of the month, IHEC figures show Maliki's State of Law list edging ahead of Allawi’s Iraqiya coalition. State of Law is ahead in key governorates, including the southern oil-rich province of Basra and Baghdad, which holds 70 parliamentary seats.

Iraqiya is currently the front-runner in the Sunni strongholds of Anbar and Mosul, and has a slight lead over the main Kurdish coalition, the Kurdistani Alliance, in the contested province of Kirkuk.

Speculation is rife as to how the frontrunners might co-exist in a new government.

"If you go by the early results, the next prime minister will be from the State of Law. But it's not clear if Maliki will have enough support from other political parties to be prime minister again. Some members of parliament were his friends yesterday, but they don’t like him today," said Basra-based political analyst Qassim Hanoon.

"But at least the government will be formed from coalitions of different groups. This is a step towards national unity," he added.

Political analyst Fadel al-Ameri, a political science professor at Baghdad University, said, "In general, the success of the big coalitions - State of Law, Iraqiya and the Kurdish Alliance - was expected. On the other hand, there were some big losers in the election who didn't expect to be defeated. For example, the Iraqi Accord Front headed by Iyad al-Samaari and the Iraqi Unity coalition headed by Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani.

"We didn’t expect a significant change in the political landscape and none came about. The heavyweight parties will be prevailing in power throughout the four coming years."

According to IHEC, the Iraqi National Alliance, INA, is ahead in the largely Shia provinces of Misan and Qadisiya and is trailing State of Law in Basra. The Kurdistani Alliance is leading in the three northern provinces of Erbil, Duhok and Sulaimaniyah.

"The results were no surprise, at least for the State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance, because they are substantially Shia and got good results in the central and southern parts [of Iraq]. The Iraqiya coalition includes many Sunni leaders and it did well in Diyala and Salahaddin provinces, and big parts of Baghdad," said Abdul Jabbar al-Hadithi, professor of international politics at the University of Mustansiriyah in Baghdad.

"Most voters chose a list because they wanted a specific leader. Most of the coalitions were referred to in the street in the name of the leader, for instance Maliki's list or Allawi's list."

The projected success of State of Law and Iraqiya lists is seen by some as a possible return to centralised power, which may put them at odds with Kurds and many Shia parties that support federalism.

"I think we will see a big change in the political system of Iraq and see a strong government in Baghdad. This is where Maliki and Allawi are not as far apart as some people claim. They have one main common point which is a strong, central government and both their lists will be pushing for this in the government," Yassin Omar, a Sulaimaniyah-based political analyst, said.

"But still they will face more deadlock as the INA in the southern part of the country and Kurds in the north will stand against a strong government in Baghdad."

After the 2005 vote, post-election political gridlock lasted for nearly five months and led to a wave of insurgent violence.

"In the new Iraq, it's almost impossible to form a government alone. Their country is so divided, no government can even get started without the participation of many other groups," said Sozan Shabab, head of the Kurdistani list in the Kurdistan Regional Government, KRG.

Some political groups, such as a council representing 28 parties in Basra, are eager to avoid a similar scenario this time round.

"We are calling on the government to form the government as soon as possible because people are suffering in every aspect of life, especially public services,” said Ahmed Wahid, member of the Virtue Party and spokesman of the Basra group. “A delay in government will just make things worse."

Ali Kareem and Ali Abu Iraq are IWPR-trained reporters in Baghdad and Basra.
IWPR Iraq local editor Hemin H Lihony contributed to this report from Sulaimaniyah.

Frontline Updates
Support local journalists