- The writer is an associate professor and member of JSGA's Department of International Security and Terrorism
By Serhat Erkmen
Along with surprising results, Iraq’s parliamentary election on Saturday has led to charges of vote-rigging. But despite fraud allegations and “irregularities” associated with ballots cast by Iraqi security personnel, unofficial results have more or less been made public.
The following breakdown provides the information necessary to follow the anticipated formation of the country’s next government.
The Sairoon coalition led by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr came in first, followed by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's Victory Coalition and the Al-Fatih bloc, the latter of which is associated with Iraq’s Hashd al-Shaabi.
These three frontrunners, all of which clinched between 50 and 55 seats in Iraq’s 328-member parliament, were followed by Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law Coalition, Ayad Allawi's Al-Wataniya Coalition and Masoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).
Meanwhile, the Al-Qarar coalition led by Osama al-Nujaifi, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and Ammar al-Hakim's National Wisdom movement all picked up less than 20 seats each in the assembly.
Other parties and lists picked up less than ten seats each.
In summary, initial results suggest the emergence of three major Shia Arab coalitions that are relatively close to one another.
Voting was marred, however, by relatively low turnout of only 44.5 percent. In 2014 elections, by contrast, this figure stood at 63 percent.
Most observers attribute the low turnout to declining public trust in politicians; the use of electronic-voting cards that were distributed to only 70 percent of the voting public; unconvincing electoral campaigns; and the country’s large internally-displaced population.
Financial turmoil in Iraq’s Kurdish region following the regional government’s ill-fated referendum late last year also probably had an impact on turnout.
The low participation rate may also be due to the fact that many Iraqis are tired of seeing the same political figures and parties for the last 15 years. Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, these politicians have largely failed to resolve the country’s chronic problems.
No matter what party or coalition ends up forming the next government, it will inevitably face a host of challenges, due in part to insufficient public support.
The first point made clear from the poll results is that many Iraqis still vote along ethnic and religious lines. The second point to be gleaned from the poll results is that Iraq is unlikely to see short-term political stability.
In a parliament in which no party holds more than one sixth of the seats, the upcoming government will not likely be strong enough to put permanent policies into practice.
That the three frontrunners are all Shia Arab in nature is the third issue. This means that the future political agenda will largely be shaped by the jockeying between rival Shia Arab parties.
The fourth point concerns alleged vote-rigging, with reports of polling “irregularities” in Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, Mosul and Erbil.
Turkmen in Kirkuk have hit the streets to demand a recount. The PUK, for its part, has voiced its readiness to accept results from Sulaymaniyah, while other Kurdish parties -- including the KDP -- accuse the PUK of electoral fraud.
According to preliminary results, the Sadrist movement, the Hashd al-Shaabi and the KDP were the big winners, while the Al-Dawa Party and Sunni Arabs in general -- along with those opposed to the current order in the Kurdish region -- were among the losers.
The Sadrist movement, for example, won slightly over a million votes, down from 1.4 million in 2014 polls. But given the relatively low voter turnout, this still meant a victory for al-Sadr’s bloc, which ran a well-organized campaign in the run-up to the vote.
The Al-Fatih coalition, backed by the Hashd al-Shaabi, came in second, also thanks to a good electoral campaign, which gave al-Sadr’s bloc a run for its money.
The KDP came in third, maintaining the same number of seats in parliament despite the fallout from last year’s illegitimate regional referendum. Given the current infighting among its opponents, the party now looks set to play a crucial role in Baghdad.
Among the losers, the Al-Dawa Party lost seats in the assembly due largely to differences between the party’s pro-Abadi and a pro-Maliki camps.
Al-Abadi also sustained a heavy blow at the polls, failing to come in first in any province except Mosul. Losing his influence over Al-Dawa -- along with his support for non-state militias -- appears to have cost the prime minister votes.
Sunni Arabs in general also lost out, with their biggest list clinching a mere 20 seats. In three of five provinces with a Sunni majority, Shia Arab parties came in first.
Some observers attribute this fact to declining trust among Sunni Arabs in their political leaders, who, many believe, failed to protect them from the Daesh terrorist group after the latter overran much of the country in 2014.
The PUK, for its part, largely ignored Turkmen and Arab voters, especially those in Kirkuk, leading to a loss of votes. This loss of seats in parliament -- and prestige -- may cause the PUK to be excluded from the next government.
Forming a govt
The formation of government in Iraq depends on two factors: internal dynamics and the role of external actors.
In terms of internal dynamics, al-Sadr can be expected to play a leading role. According to his post-election comments, al-Sadr is prepared to deal with all parties, except for the PUK and the Al-Fatih and State of Law coalitions -- in other words, anyone except those closely linked to Iran.
In terms of external actors, meanwhile, neither the U.S. nor Iran want to see an al-Sadr-led government.
And it should not be forgotten that the U.S. still has the power to prevent candidates that it does not support from assuming the post of Iraqi prime minister.
Al-Maliki, for example, failed to protect his premiership in 2014 after the U.S. and Iran raised their objections. Al-Sadr's political role, therefore, may be limited for the same reason.
Iraqi politics are deeply affected by the longstanding standoff between the U.S. and Iran, both of which maintain considerable influence over the country.
Since Iran wants to maintain a viable military-political front against the U.S. in Iraq, it is unlikely to approve of a government that excludes both the Hashd al-Shaabi and al-Maliki.
Iraq’s next government, therefore, will be largely shaped by the U.S.-Iran rivalry. While Tehran won’t support a government that does not include pro-Iranian parties, the U.S. can be expected to follow a similar policy.
The process of drawing up the country’s next cabinet will likely take several months at the least, during which Iraq may very well be affected by unforeseen factors outside its control.
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