Analyzing the returns from Iraq’s May 2018 parliamentary elections shows some interesting trends. First, the most well organized parties did the best. Some lists were focused upon the wrong themes, and there was widespread charges of fraud.
The Sairoon alliance between Moqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi Communist Party, and some civil society groups benefited the most from the low voter turnout. Sairoon’s political machine served it well. It was able to mobilize its voters and get them to pick from across the list to get them a plurality of the seats with 54. It was the only one that ran completely new candidates, and its participation in the protests for services, ending corruption and political reform showed that it did not want to maintain the status quo. That matched the widespread disillusionment with the electorate this year. In 2014 Sadr’s Ahrar won 34 seats, while the Civil Democratic Alliance got 4. Half of the later joined Sadr this year, so together they were able to gain roughly 18 seats. While the number of votes it received was little changed from 2014, because fewer people came out Sairoon won a larger percentage. Its base was solidly in the south coming in 1st in Dhi Qar, Maysan, Muthanna, Najaf, and Wasit, 2nd in Babil, Basra, Karbala, and Qadisiyah, along with winning Baghdad, and fourth place in Diyala.
Fatah which was led by Badr’s Hadi Amiri and made up mostly of pro-Iran Hashd groups also did well. In 2014, Badr was part of State of Law and won 22 seats. Another member of the list, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq won 1 seat that year as well. This year Fatah took 47 seats. Like Sairoon, Fatah was able to get out the vote. It played upon the Hashd’s populist image of common folk who fought the Islamic State. It included some Sunni candidates leading to 2 seats in Salahaddin and 3 seats in Ninewa, along with winning Babil, Basra, Karbala, Qadisiyah, and coming in 2nd in Baghdad, Dhi Qar, Diyala, Maysan, Muthanna, Najaf, and Wasit.
Abadi was hoping his victory over the Islamic State and his dealing with the Kurdish independence referendum would lead to his victory in May, but that didn’t happen. He used the office of the prime minister to crisscross the country in the weeks before the vote talking about tackling corruption, and being a nationalist rather than a sectarian list. His base in the Shiite middle class also meant he didn’t play on Shiite identity politics as much. As a member of the Communist Party and another from the Civil Democratic Party pointed out, the premier made promises to deal with graft and the ethnosectarian political system, but never did anything substantive about them. With the mood of the public swinging against the status quo, Abadi suffered by representing the establishment. He came in a disappointing third with 42 seats. His running of candidates across the country was the one highlight as he picked up 2 seats in Anbar and Salahaddin each, and won in Ninewa netting 7 seats, all of which are considered solidly Sunni governorates. In Baghdad, he largely flopped however coming in tied for fourth with 8 seats.
Vice President Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law was fourth with 26 seats. Despite being blamed for the loss of Mosul in 2014, failing to get the Hashd to run with him, flip flopping from being an opponent of the Kurds to trying to appeal to them over the independence referendum, which cost him in the south, Maliki won the most votes of any individual. He did the same in 2010 and 2014. State of Law was also able to come in third ahead of Abadi’s Nasr in the capital. Maliki tried to embrace the reform trend by calling for a majority government as the solution to the problems in Baghdad, but otherwise made a sectarian appeal to the Shiite community.
The Kurdish vote was highly contested, but the ruling parties ended up coming out on top. The KDP won 25 seats and the PUK 18. That’s roughly the same as 2014 when the KDP got 25 and the PUK 21. The opposition was hoping for a much better showing with the failure of the Kurdish referendum, the loss of Kirkuk, and the economic crisis in Kurdistan. They talked about running together but the clash of personalities at the top meant they went it alone and it cost them. Change that won 9 seats in 2014 only got 5 in 2018. New Generation won 4 seats, and the Coalition for Democracy and Justice, the Kurdistan Islamic Union, and the Kurdistan Islamic Group each got 2. The PUK has been accused of cheating in Kirkuk and Sulaymaniya, but it and the KDPs success is again due to its voter mobilization. Its followers came out despite the problems and voted across the lists to get the most candidates in office. They are now hoping to play their victory in Kurdistan and Kirkuk into rejoining the federal government, which they had moved away from in the last several years. The opposition on the other hand are talking about lawsuits and withdrawing from the political process because of their poor showing, which they have blamed on the PUK’s fraud. That will mean the Kurdish parliamentarians will continue to be split and divided over regional politics rather than focusing on national ones.
Wataniya made up of Vice President Iyad Allawi, Speaker of Parliament Salim al-Jabouri and Salah al-Mutlaq was another disappointed list. It pulled 21 seats when in 2014 Allawi was able to pull that same amount on his own. While it tied for the most seats in Diyala, and came in 2nd in Anbar, it didn’t do as well in other areas picking up 3rd in Ninewa and Salahaddin, tied for 4th in Baghdad, and won no seats in Babil, although it did pick up one seat in Basra. Wataniya tried to play upon the public’s disillusionment, but Allawi and Mutlaq had done little in the last four years, while Jabouri was aligned with Abadi.
Ammar Hakim ran alone this year forming his own Hikma after he split with his family’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq. Like everyone else he talked about reform, but was really helped by the financial backing he had. The list finished with 19 seats. In 2014, his Mowatin, which included the Iraqi National Congress was able to get 31 seats.
Vice President Osama Nujafi was another politician that had to deal with faltering popularity. In 2014 his Mutahidun won 27 seats. That went down to 13 seats in 2018. Even in Ninewa where Nujafi is from he came in a distant 5th. Nujafi played about identity politics and his opposition to Abadi, but neither paid off.
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