Iraq’s cabinet recently announced that it was postponing the April 2013 provincial elections in Anbar and Ninewa for security reasons. This was instantly criticized as a move to undermine the voting process in those two governorates. Both provinces have seen major anti-government demonstrations since December 2012, which have concerned Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. At the same time, the councils in Anbar and Ninewa have gone through major divisions. In fact, the former called for a delay in polling before the cabinet’s decision. This maneuver could be the result of these local and national figures trying to keep their opponents at bay for a short period of time.
On March 19, 2013, Iraq’s cabinet said that it was delaying voting in Anbar and Ninewa for up to six months. Security was the reason given for the postponement. Since candidates were announced in January, there have been several assassinations and withdrawals. A candidate in Anbar, and two in Ninewa have been killed since February, and there have been attacks upon others. As a result of this violence, 14 people dropped out in Mosul the capital of Ninewa. Finally, Anbar’s provincial council also placed a formal request with the Iraqi Election Commission to hold off voting there, citing insecurity. Interestingly though the Commission did not make the decision to delay voting, but instead the cabinet did, which is under the control of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Violence was much worse during the elections in 2005 and 2009, which brings up the questions of whether that was the real motivation behind the decision. The anti-government protests in the two governorates could be a much bigger concern for the prime minister. They could lead to anti-Maliki politicians being elected there, which would further complicate the matter.
The protests in Anbar and Ninewa could be a major reason why elections have been postponed there (Ammon News)
Another major issue was the political divisions within the Anbar and Ninewa councils. In Anbar, seven parties rule, which can be broken up into several different blocks. Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha’s Awakening of Iraq and Independents holds the most seats. He has been at the forefront of the demonstrations in the province. He, along with Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi’s Alliance of Intellectuals and Tribes, the local offshoot of the Iraqi Islamic Party (IIP), are anti-Maliki. The IIP has condemned the postponement, blaming local elements that are aligned with Baghdad. On the other hand, Jamal al-Karbouli’s National Movement for Development and Reform, Sheikh Hamid Farhan al-Hayes’ Iraq Tribes List, and Governor Qasim Abdi Mohammed Hammadi al-Fahadawi have been supportive of the prime minister. The governor for example said he was for delaying the vote, claiming that the security forces could not protect both the protesters and the polling stations. He thought voting could take place in one to two months. Sheikh Hayes on the other hand, has criticized the protest movement, and said that he was forming a tribal group that would support the central government. Ninewa has seen similar splits. There Governor Atheel al-Nujafi came out against holding up the balloting, while a member of the council supported it. After the 2009 elections, Nujafi’s al-Hadbaa won a majority of seats, and took over the entire provincial government after the Kurdish party boycotted. Since then, al-Hadbaa has split into several different factions, which are going to run against each other. The politicians aligned with Baghdad seem happy with the postponement. With the on-going protests their election chances could be limited. They may hope that in a few months the demonstrations will end. At the minimum, they can hold onto power for a little while longer.
It appears that Maliki and the parties aligned with him in Anbar and Ninewa are the main beneficiaries of the postponement. They are both concerned about the repercussions of the protest movements. At the same time, there’s no telling whether this delay will change the election results once they finally occur. The votes in the two provinces look to be divided amongst a variety of groups, which will simply re-align the current ruling coalitions. The real question is how long will the vote be put off. The cabinet mentioned up to six months, but if that were to be delayed anymore there could be more serious repercussions. High numbers of voters came out in the last governorate elections in 2009 in Anbar and Ninewa after they boycotted in 2005. This included a large number of insurgents, which helped drastically reduce violence in the country overall. Now many Sunnis may be feeling that the election process does not offer them the hope of change. If the voting is delayed for an extended period of time that could be a concrete sign that Baghdad wants to disenfranchise them. That could lead to political apathy or worse an increase in attacks whether through active participation or passive acceptance of militants as an expression of their anger. That means voting needs to occur as quickly as possible in these two governorates, or it could have widespread negative repercussions.
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