The leading Shiite cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, recently called on Iraqis to vote in the March 7, 2010 parliamentary elections. His announcement came after some of his followers asked whether they should participate in the balloting given how badly the government has operated. Sistani did not endorse any individuals or parties, but he obviously appeals to the more religious Shiites.
In the 2005 elections, Sistani promoted the formation of the United Iraqi Alliance that included the major Shiite parties the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), the Dawa Party, the Sadrists, and the Fadhila Party. He appointed current Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani to help organize the list, and in the run-up to the vote the Supreme Council used pictures of Sistani to rally voters to their alliance.
This time, Sistani’s statement could favor the National Alliance made up of the SIIC, the Sadrists, the Iraqi National Congress, former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and the Fadhila Party since they have stressed Shiite identity and religion. That could push them past Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law List that has been hurt recently by the large bombings that struck Iraq’s ministries in Baghdad beginning in August 2009. That undermined the Prime Minister’s main argument that he had brought security back to the country, and probably led him to join the anti-Baathist campaign instead of stressing nationalism as he did in the 2009 provincial elections. Sistani may also be able to reverse the declining voter turnout in southern Iraq that dropped from 2005 to 2009. How he will affect the elections will all be known soon enough as the balloting is only a few weeks away.
Independent, “Senior Shia cleric urges Iraqis to vote in elections,” 2/18/10
Shadid, Anthony and Vick, Karl, “Candidate Slate Shows Shiites Closing Ranks,” Washington Post, 12/7/04
Yacoub Sameer, “Iraq bans pictures of non-candidates in vote,” Associated Press, 7/3/08
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