Wednesday, April 17, 2013

2013 Provincial Elections Look To Maintain The Current Political Deadlock In Iraq

Early voting for Iraq’s provincial elections began on April 13, 2013 with the security forces going to the polls. Like the last balloting in 2009, this year’s will take place in fourteen of the country’s eighteen provinces with Kurdistan following its own timetable, and Tamim being excluded, because of its disputed territories. It is unclear as yet whether the 2013 vote will be a game changer like the 2009 one was.

Members of Iraq’s Election Commission training for the 2013 vote (AFP)

The 2009 election was about issues, which resulted in wholesale changes in Iraq’s local governments. In 2005, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and the Kurdish parties came out the big winners, in part because the Sunni community largely stayed away from the polls. In November 2004, the Muslim Scholars Association announced a boycott, citing the American attack upon Fallujah. Insurgent groups made similar calls for Sunnis to not participate. The result was that only 2% of voters turned out in Anbar, 17% in Ninewa, 29% in Salahaddin, and 33% in Diyala. That benefited the Supreme Council and the Kurdish parties with the former walking away with Diyala, and the latter with Ninewa and Salahaddin. The Supreme Council also won Babil, Baghdad, Dhi Qar, Karbala, Muthanna, Najaf, and Qadisiyah, while the Kurdish parties won Dohuk, Irbil, Sulaymaniya, and Tamim. This was exactly what the Kurdish Alliance and the ISCI had talked about before the voting, a Kurdish controlled north and a Shiite ruled south that could form regions to protect themselves from the insurgency. Instead, the two lists proved horrible and corrupt administrators that were unable to deliver security, services or development. By 2009, the public had enough. Large numbers of Sunnis, including several insurgent groups came out, and they, along with others voted out almost all of the ruling parties. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law list took Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar, Karbala, Maysan, Qadisiyah, and Wasit, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi’s Iraqi Accordance Front won Diyala, and Salahaddin, while new parties like the Awakening of Iraq and Independents, al-Hadbaa, and the Loyalty of Najaf came to power in Anbar, Ninewa, and Najaf respectively. Those new ruling parties have proven no better at running Iraq’s provinces as the previous ones. If this year’s election was about performance again, they would likely lose. Instead, the politicians have been able to shape the debate to be about the protests in Anbar, Ninewa, Diyala, and Tamim, and the sectarian politics they engender. The Kurdish Coalition, the Sadrists, and elements of the now fractured Iraqi National Movement have also brought up Maliki’s term as prime minister. For example, the Sadr bloc and Speaker of Parliament Osama Nujafi’s National Assembly of Iraqis accused officers in the security forces of pushing their units to vote for certain lists, implying Maliki’s State of Law. Unfortunately, that looks to only be playing with their base, as many in central and southern Iraq have rallied behind the premier in the face of what they see as Baathist and insurgent led demonstrations.

2005 Governors By Parties - Provinces
Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq – Babil, Baghdad, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Karbala, Muthanna, Najaf, Qadisiyah
Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) – Dohuk, Irbil, Tamim
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) – Sulaymaniya
Kurdish Alliance (KDP & PUK) – Salahaddin
Independent (Backed by Kurdish Alliance) – Ninewa
Sadrists – Maysan, Wasit
Iraqi Islamic Party – Anbar
Fadhila Party – Basra

2009 Governors By Parties - Provinces
State of Law – Baghdad, Basra, Dhi Qar, Karbala, Maysan, Qadisiyah, Wasit
Iraqi Accordance Front – Diyala, Salahaddin
Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq – Muthanna
Sadrists – Babil
Awakening of Iraq and Independents – Anbar
Al-Hadbaa – Ninewa
Loyalty to Najaf - Najaf

The 2009 provincial balloting brought dramatic changes to Iraq’s local governments, but this year’s vote looks to be maintaining the current political status quo. Maliki’s State of Law will likely keep control of most of southern Iraq along with Baghdad. The different elements of the Iraqi National Movement are going to run against each other in Anbar, Diyala, Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Tamim, and will split the vote between them. The Kurdish Coalition will maintain its base in the northern governorates as well. There doesn’t look to be any major realignment of the powers that be this year. Those disaffected with that might vote for the Sadrists or Supreme Council or independent lists, but many may also feel disillusioned, and simply stay away from the polls. That will be another setback for Iraq’s developing democracy as the ruling parties have not proven good at governing, yet remain in power. It might take the 2014 parliamentary elections to really shake up Iraqi politics, but that may just reshuffle the deck amongst Iraq’s parties once again instead of bringing about any meaningful transformations like the last governorate elections were able to do.


AIN, “Zamili: some special protection units, officials pressurize security elements,” 4/13/13

Burns, John and Glanz, James, “Iraqi Shiites Win, but Margin Is less Than Projection,” New York Times, 2/14/05

Chatham House, “Iraq’s Political Systems,” 3/19/13

Howard, Michael, “Main Sunni party pulls out of Iraqi election,” Guardian, 12/28/04

National Iraqi News Agency, “Mottahidoon /United/ Slate accuses officers for mobilizing military elements to vote for the benefit of a specific slate in Mosul,” 4/13/13

Niqash, “accord and reform bloc,” 1/28/09

Rubin, Alissa, “46 political groups vow to boycott elections,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11/19/04

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