Monday, April 7, 2014

Opinions On The 2014 Elections By Iraq Observers

Iraq’s next round of parliamentary elections are due on April 30, 2014. This year’s vote more than ever is a referendum on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s rule. His State of Law party lost some ground in the 2013 vote and many of his competitors, specifically Ammar Hakim’s Citizen’s Alliance and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Ahrar/Liberals bloc are looking to directly challenge the prime minister. On the other hand the Kurdish and Sunni parties are seeing greater fragmentation. More important than the actual vote is the months of negotiation that will follow to determine whether Maliki will stay in office for a third term or not. To help explain this situation are a variety of Iraq observers who give a brief explanation of what they expect to see. The list of contributors includes Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Dr. Michael Knights, New American Foundation and Mantid International’s Douglas Ollivant, University of Pittsburgh’s Prof. Haider Hamoudi, Al-Monitor contributor Harith Hassan, University of California San Diego Prof. Babak Rahimi, journalist and Kurdistan Tribune contributor Kamal Chomani, and the Institute for the Study of War’s Ahmed Ali
(Press TV)

Dr. Michael Knights, Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Knights can be followed on Twitter @Mikeknightsiraq 
Though there are certain wild cards that we don't fully understand – notably Iran's position on the third Maliki term or the potential attitude of the Shia religious establishment in Najaf - most pointers seem to suggest a solid electoral performance by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq appear lacking in confidence and thrown off  balance by the way that Prime Minister Maliki has played the security crisis to his advantage. The Sadrists are in disarray. Sunni blocs seem ready to disintegrate after the elections and are already considering how to market their support to a third Maliki term. And the Kurds only enjoy significant leverage in the case of a close contest between two Shia rivals for the premiership, which may not occur if current trends persist. So Maliki enjoys both the advantages of incumbency and leadership of the most cohesive pre-electoral bloc. That said, it could still be a torturous government formation process, potentially longer than the 249 days last time in 2010. The results may well be disputed. Parties seem to have done less pre-election coalition-building, choosing instead to test their strength and later combine with other blocs. This adds time to government formation. The process of deciding the rules for appointing cabinet positions may be lengthy, especially if Maliki or another actor seeks a new kind of government where the PM seeks continuity in certain technocratic or security roles. A new PM-elect might also seek to pick from shortlists of ministerial candidates rather than letting parties directly allocate ministers to the portfolios their bloc "won." The basic horse-trading over ministries - between blocs and within blocs - is long-winded under the best of conditions. Provincial governorships could be thrown into the mix to further complicate affairs. And if PM Maliki is the next PM-elect, he might not be in any rush to end his caretaker period, when he will probably act with full authority but when even fewer checks may exist on his power.

Douglas Ollivant, New American Foundation and Mantid International. Ollivant can be followed on Twitter @DouglasOllivant 
The Iraqi parliamentary elections scheduled for April hold great promise.  Whether that promise will be fulfilled remains an open question.  I see two possible outcomes of the election. The optimal outcome would be for State of Law (likely to get a plurality of the seats) to try to build a majority government—meaning that there would be “out” parties not invited into the government who would then be in opposition.  Were State of Law to take this route, they would need to immediately reach out to one of the Sunni-based parties to form the nucleus of the new government, then add smaller parties (including all or part of the Kurds) until they reach the 2/3 majority required to select a President.  Selection of the President, in any scenario, will be intertwined with horse trading over the Speaker and PM selection and it will be interesting to see whether the Kurds are able to protect the Presidency as their “due” for being part of a unified Iraq.   However, it is difficult to overstate how much the Constitutional 2/3 majority clause makes it to build a functioning government (imagine trying to get 2/3 agreement in the U.S. or Great Britain as to who will head your government…).  But if this path is successfully navigated, government formation could happen relatively quickly. However, given the 2/3 requirement, it grows increasingly likely that Iraq will have to once again settle for a national-unity government (read: a government in which a significant minority of the ministers have a vested interest in the government’s failure, and use their office primarily to seek “rents”).  If this is the case, then government formation could well drag into the end of this year, or even early into the next.  For purposes of comparison, the March 2010 elections were followed by about ten months of inconclusive negotiations, with agreement on a coalition government not coming until late December.  This time, government formation will be made even more difficult by growing weakness of the political parties and their inability to impose discipline (and in the case of the Sadrists, the lack of any central party whatsoever), forcing votes to be courted retail.  Moreover, unlike in 2010, the major blocs are smaller this time around, leaving even greater political space for post-election bargaining.  This election comes at a critical time, with spillover from the Syrian conflict exacerbating Iraq's security problems, and Iraq’ parliament gridlocked and unable to address the country's existential problems to a degree that approaches that of the U.S. Congress.  We can remain hopeful, but the trend lines are less positive than they were a year ago.

Political prognostications are hardly my area of strength, in Iraq or anywhere else. But as someone who has followed Iraqi law and politics for over a decade, what has struck me concerning the upcoming national election is the extent to which the various existing political movements have atomized, in a manner that presents both opportunities and challenges of a significant sort. In 2006, the United Iraq Alliance (UIA) could be thought of as the “Shi’i” coalition, with Sunnis overwhelmingly splitting their votes between two different coalitions—the Iraqi [Accordance] Front and Tawafuq. In 2010, it was the Shi’a who divided their votes between two coalitions—the UIA and Nouri Al-Maliki’s State of Law. The Sunnis largely unified under Iraqiya, and nearly had the opportunity to run the government as a result. This year, each of the primary constituent elements of these broad coalitions has decided to go its own way. Only the Kurds remain a cohesive political unit, at least to the extent that the opposition Change Coalition does not manage to make significant further inroads into the electoral strength of the Kurdistan Coalition. The challenges this presents will be obvious enough in the short term. A period of months will almost surely transpire after elections and before the coalitions manage to agree on forming a government. The existing inability of the legislature to either challenge the executive or to enact meaningful legislation will be exacerbated significantly, and the Arab-Kurdish divide may grow even worse. Finally, I cannot discount the dangerous possibility that the mercurial Muqtada al-Sadr, having withdrawn from politics, will espouse the use of violence on a wider scale once again. Yet the atomization of the political coalitions opens the door for new entrants and new alignments, perhaps eventually even of a nonsectarian sort. Even if new entrants are aligned with a particular identitarian interest, as they almost surely will in the shorter term, some good may well come of it. We have seen the world over the manner in which sclerotic oligarchical parties in developing nations manage to divide power among themselves and place a stranglehold on the political scene for a period of decades, preventing the opportunities for new ideas and new contenders. The inability of the old guard to do the same this time around at least clears the field for new possibilities over the medium term. Or so we may hope.

Harith Hassan, Contributor to Al-Monitor. Author of Imagining the Nation; Nationalism, Sectarianism and Socio-political Conflict in Iraq. Hassan can be followed on Twitter @harith_hasan 
The main issue that major parties have in mind is whether Maliki will stay in power; none is presenting a clear vision about addressing Iraq’s major problems. Intra-communal competition will influence electoral campaigns, as most major groups preferred to run by themselves, knowing that the largest block can be formed after the election. Although Pro-Sadr block and Hakim’s coalition are running separately, it is very likely they will ally after the election, especially if they feel this move will help blocking Maliki’s attempt to win a third term. Realizing that, Maliki’s strategy is focused on winning the largest share of Shi’a votes and emerging as the undisputed Shi’a leader. In post-election negotiation, it will make a difference whether Maliki represents half of Shi’a votes or majority of 60+% in determining his leverage. After the collapse of Al-Iraqiya, the Sunni vote will be fragmented and while Mutahiduun is expected to be the largest Sunni group, it is unclear how large it will be and whether it will be able to claim communal representation. Most likely, no party will win a majority and we will have long negotiations and escalation of political tension at the same time. The scenario in which no agreement is reached in the negotiation is possible and the scenario of a caretaker government for a long time with no Parliamentary supervision, which will be beneficial for Maliki.  

Prof. Babak Rahimi, University of California San Diego
With the withdrawal of the resignation of the nine-member board of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) on March 30th, Iraqis now seem ready to head to the polls on April 30. With 276 political factions ready to run, the post-2003 democratization project appears on track. But is it? In light of tensions between the State of Law Coalition (SLC), led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Sadrists, led by Moqtada al-Sadr, and The Supreme Islamic Council, led by Ammar al-Hakim, post-Baathist politics is more fractured than ever. A reach for total power by each faction seems to be the main ambition. Meanwhile, the failure of the Sunni Arabs to create an umbrella bloc to rival predominantly Shia factions has contributed to the current sectarian polarization with Shias of various factions feeling confident not to include Sunnis in the political process. Now a month before the elections, Iraq is left with a situation in which the system of governance is becoming chaotic and, accordingly, more authoritarian. The upcoming election may solidify a political system that seems democratic but in practice has become increasingly dysfunctional because of enhanced intra-sectarian competition. As a result of the chaos in governance, Maliki’s administration is becoming more militaristic, especially with the conflict in Anbar and the arrest of Sunni MP, Ahmed Al-Alwani, which brought to full view a structural attempt to undermine Sunni reach for power. And while the parliament seems unable to pass the budget, the Kurdish factions do not seem interested to compromise. What the post-2014 parliamentary election might ultimately reveal is an Iraq that is heading towards the consolidation of sectarian factionalism with Maliki as the strong man with a possible third term in office.

Kamal Chomani, Journalist And Contributor To Kurdistan Tribune. Kamal can be followed on Twitter @KamalChomani 
Iraq's parliamentary elections are crucial as there are many conflicts between political parties that only an election can decide as to which direction the conflicts go. What makes the elections more interesting is that all political parties, including Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, are unanimously trying to put an end to PM Maliki's authoritarian wishes, but it is very much clear that Maliki will win. The whole elections will be about Maliki. The elections are like a referendum on Maliki as in Turkey it was on Erdogan. As in Turkey, people in Iraq are in love with a strong politician who roars against his rivals, and makes decisions no matter what his rivals say. People vote for a person and his personality not a political party or a candidate. As Maliki becomes more authoritarian and harsh against his rivals, he will get more votes. Despite the fact that Maliki's government has not brung about good public services or security, many Iraqis believe that his rivals cannot reach his performance. Maliki is so lucky that his rivals are not so strong and united to defeat him. Even after elections I do not think an alliance can put an end to his wishes for a third term. In the Kurdistan region, the elections are even more crucial for many reasons. First of all we should bear in mind that after almost 7 delays, we will have provincial elections which is even more important than parliamentary elections for Kurds. Provincial elections will change the political order in the Kurdistan region as for the first time through elections an important position within the government, like Governor, may easily change in Slemani. The Gorran Movement will definitely win Slemani. This changes the political order as Governor has important roles. Gorran will become stronger with winning Slemani. Erbil will be even more crucial as Gorran, PUK and Islamists together may get more seats in the Province's City than the KDP. If that happens, the KDP may lose Erbil to the PUK or Gorran. Though an agreement between other parties against the KDP may be difficult, nothing is impossible. For Parliamentary elections, the competition will be so serious as all will try to weaken the KDP, whereas the KDP will try to keep its votes, or even increase them. The KDP is so weak in Kirkuk to an extent that it will hardly win a seat. In Slemani it is not much better than Kirkuk. But Mosul will balance it. The PUK will focus more on Kirkuk as in the KRG it may not be able to get more votes than the previous Kurdistan's parliamentary elections in which its votes saw a big decline. Gorran should work harder as Gorran wants to prove that it is still the second biggest party in the KRG. Apart from all that, the KRG's new cabinet will be delayed until after the elections. This means winners expect to get more votes so as to get more positions in the KRG's new government on the one hand, and on the other, this time opposition parties will also take part in the Iraqi government. First they are strong so they cannot be ignored. Second if Maliki wins, his party may ask Kurdish opposition groups to take part in his government without the KDP. This is again difficult to happen, but if Maliki wins, he will try to form a government with minor parties not an alliance government with Sunni and Kurdish political entities. In this situation, Kurdish opposition groups will play a vital role. They will also use this card to get higher positions in the KRG's new government if they are not given their electoral rights. They will try to help Maliki to exclude the KDP and include them in the new Iraqi government. Based on the rivalries between Maliki and Barzani, this will make sense. All in all, we will have a crucial election that may not change anything again as it is more about the personalities not the political parties, it is more to end one’s power not to establish new policies, finally, none of the political parties can win a major victory to form the new government unilaterally. It will again be an alliance government without having a strong opposition party in the parliament, so elections will be just to change the roles not the policies.

Ahmed Ali, Institute for the Study of War. Ahmed can be followed on Twitter @IraqShamel 
The April 2014 national elections will be a make or break moment for the major political figures. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will face the major test of recovering from the results of the 2013 provincial elections. Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi will face the challenge of securing the Iraqi Sunni political leadership that continues to be fractured. Prime Minister Maliki’s opponents will seek to unseat him or at the minimum restrict his power if he is able to secure a third term. These elections are critical for Iraq as it grapples with on going violence carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and Iraqi Shi’a militias. The outcome will have long-term consequences for Iraq’s social, political, and economic structures.

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