Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani finally released his much anticipated statement on Iraq’s May 2018 elections. He talked about not supporting the establishment politicians who had not served the interests of the Iraqi public. He played no favorites and did not call out any specific parties or individuals, which could have been anticipated as Sistani did not want to be caught up in partisan politics. At the same time, that allowed many of the Iraqi lists to claim they supported the Ayatollah’s statement even though it was aimed at them.
May 4, Sistani’s representative in Najaf delivered the Grand Ayatollah’s thoughts on the upcoming vote. Sistani said that Iraq’s Shiite religious authority had supported elections and pluralism since 2003, and still backed that process. At the same time, he noted that voting and the country’s politicians had not always served the public. He went on to say that the people should not vote for those that did not represent their interests, especially those that had abused their offices through corruption and waste. He didn’t blame any specific parties for those problems, nor came out for any group as the solution to those issues. Sistani has gone back and forth over his involvement in Iraqi politics. In 2005 for instance, he helped put together the United Iraqi Alliance (1) so that the Shiite majority could exercise its power at the voting booth. In 2014, he called for change in Baghdad, which led to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki being replaced by Premier Haidar Abadi. At other times, he has been more circumspect, which was the case with his latest statement.
The problem with his most recent thoughts were that they were so general, that all of the Shiite parties are supporting them even though they were the target of Sistani’s criticism. For instance, Ammar Hakim who is running his new Hikma list this year said he was committed to the Ayatollah’s proclamation, and called for others to do the same. Likewise, Vice President Nuri al-Maliki mimicked Sistani’s words by saying that he supported elections and that the new government had to support the needs of the public. Finally, Premier Abadi backed the announcement as well. These three figures represent the political parties that have largely ruled Iraq since 2005. Hakim’s former party the Supreme Council ran most of southern Iraq’s provincial governments from 2005-2009, while Maliki and Abadi’s Dawa has held the prime minister spot since 2005. Their lists have been full of corrupt officials, and failed to provide basic services and good governance. Still, they are acting as if Sistani was talking about someone else. These are some of the major parties that the Iraqi public has to choose from and are likely to come out the winners as well, which raises the question of how much of an impact will the Grand Ayatollah’s statement ultimately have.
1. Bazzi, Mohammed, “The al-Sistani factor in Iraq election,” Newsday, 1/30/05
Abbas, Mohammed, “Iraqi Shiite cleric tells AFP: PM Maliki must go,” Agence France Presse, 7/16/14
Bazzi, Mohammed, “The al-Sistani factor in Iraq election,” Newsday, 1/30/05
NINA, “Abadi: The Religious Authority Still Protects Iraq And The Political Process,” 5/4/18
- “Hakim Confirms His Full Commitment To The Directives Of The Religious Authority On The Elections,” 5/5/18
- “Maliki From Diwaniyah: Supreme Religious Authority Guidelines Are A Road Map For The Success Of The Elections,” 5/4/18
Sotaliraq, “Shiite lists breathe a sigh of relief following Sistani’s stance,” 5/5/18
- “Sistani announced his position on the elections through three points,” 5/5/18