Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How Much Change Will The 2010 Elections Bring To Iraq?

Some early returns from Iraq’s March 2010 parliamentary election are in. Leading politicians are also beginning to make statements about the results, and hinting at possible alliances to put together a new government. These together beg the question as to just how much change this year’s vote will bring to the country.

First, early results have been reported in the northern province of Diyala and Karbala in the south. In Diyala, only five of 22 lists got enough votes to win at least one seat in parliament. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement came in first, followed by the Iraqi National Alliance, the Kurdish Alliance, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law, and finally the Accordance Front. Together those five will divide up the 13 seats up for grabs in Diyala. In Karbala, three lists, the State of Law, the National Alliance, and the National Movement, are reported to have collected 99% of the vote so far out of twelve total coalitions

In both cases, the leading lists are made up of the exact same parties that took all the seats in parliament in 2005 from those two governorates. For example, in December 2005 in Karbala the United Iraqi Alliance won five seats, and the Iraqi National List one. Then, the United Alliance was made up of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), the Sadrists, and the Dawa Party. Today, Dawa is the backbone of the State of Law that finished first, while the Supreme Council and Sadrists make up the National Alliance that came in second. The Iraqi National List is Allawi’s party who now leads the National Movement that is currently in third place in the province. Similarly, in 2005 in Diyala the Iraqi Accordance Front won five seats, the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish Alliance two each, and the Iraqi National List and the Iraqi National Dialogue Front one apiece. The Accordance Front is currently in fifth place. The three major parties in the United Alliance now have the second and fourth most votes. The Kurdish Alliance came in third in 2005, and has that same spot today. Finally, the Iraqi National List and Iraqi National Dialogue Front are today in the National Movement, which holds the most votes so far. The results show that there has been a shift in public opinion creating a new balance of power in Iraq between its major parties. In Karbala, the Shiite parties are still in the lead, it’s just that Maliki has struck out on his own with the State of Law, while Allawi is still in last. In Diyala a different rearrangement has occurred. Whereas in 2005 the Islamic Party’s Accordance Front emerged as the leading Sunni party in Iraq, this year, many Sunnis came out for Allawi’s National Movement instead, leaving the Islamic Party in last place. In contrast to Karbala, in Diyala the Supreme Council and the Sadrists still hold sway with the province’s Shiites over Maliki, while the Kurds remain in the middle.

Selected Comparison Of Alliances and Finishes: 2005 vs 2010

Major Lists/Parties In December 2005 Parliamentary Election
United Iraqi Alliance - Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), Sadrists, Dawa
Kurdish Gathering - Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)
Iraqi Accordance Front -Iraqi Islamic Party
Iraqi National List - Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi
Iraqi National Dialogue Front -Saleh al-Mutlaq

Major Lists In March 2010 Parliamentary Election
State of Law - Dawa
National Alliance - SIIC, Sadrists
Kurdish Alliance – PUK, KDP
Iraqi Accordance Front – Iraqi Islamic Party
National Movement – Iraqi National List, Iraqi National Dialogue Front

Diyala – 2005 Results
1. Iraqi Accordance Front
2. United Iraqi Alliance
3. Kurdish Gathering
4. Iraqi National List
5. Iraqi National Dialogue Front

Diyala – 2010 Preliminary Results
1. Iraqi National Movement
2. Iraqi National Alliance
3. Kurdish Alliance
4. State of Law
5. Iraqi Accordance Front

Karbala – 2005 Results
1. United Iraqi Alliance
2. Iraqi National List

Karbala – 2010 Preliminary Results
1. State of Law
2. Iraqi National Alliance
3. Iraqi National Movement

Some take this year’s vote as a move towards secularism and nationalism, but upon further inspection this may not be wholly true. For example, in Diyala the National Alliance that ran on a sectarian, anti-Baathist campaign, and Shiite identity beat out the State of Law. Conversely, Allawi’s strong showing in the province in 2010 could simply be Sunnis shifting support to him and away from the Islamic Party rather than a victory for Iraqi nationalism. Allawi is a Shiite, but all of his major allies in the National Movement, parliamentarian Saleh al-Mutlaq, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the al-Hadbaa Party, and Deputy Prime Minister Rafa al-Issawi, are all Sunnis, and Allawi’s National List has always appealed to ex-soldiers from Saddam’s time and ex-Baathists, and opposed Iranian influence that are all popular with Sunnis. Not only that, but no new party emerged in either governorate to win a seat, and most of the smaller parties are made up of technocrats, and stress secularism, nationalism, and local issues.

Not only is the 2010 vote likely to return all of the major parties to power in parliament, top politicians think that the new government won’t be much different from the old one. On March 7 for instance, President Jalal Talabani told Aswat al-Iraq that only minor differences would emerge in Iraqi politics after the election. He said that those in power would stay there, although some new blocks might be added to the ruling coalition. As a sign of things staying the same, Talabani claimed that major parties had asked him to remain as president. Next, on March 9 Niqash on-line magazine published an interview with former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari who ran as part of the Iraqi National Alliance. He said that he felt a “conviction” to join with the State of Law, which would re-unite the two factions of the old United Iraqi Alliance of 2005 to hold onto the top positions in government. Jaafari echoed Talabani’s sentiment by saying that the 2010 vote would lead to some changes, but not dramatic ones as the transformation of countries happens at a very slow pace.

Beginning in late-2008 Iraq’s politics began to change. The large lists of 2005 began to fragment, and the public lost faith in the old coalitions for not providing jobs, services, and economic development. Those sentiments were shown in the 2009 election when every single party in power was voted out of office, a dramatic event in the Middle East where politicians rarely feel the consequences of their actions. This trend has continued into 2010 as Maliki’s State of Law and Allawi’s National Movement are seen as alternatives to the other major parties that held sway from 2005-2008 such as the Supreme Council, the Sadrists, and the Islamic Party. Maliki’s Dawa Party and Allawi’s National List have been around just as long and shared power with those others, but either through their actions such as the Prime Minister cracking down on Shiite militias, or the former Prime Minister’s promises of a fresh approach to Iraq’s problems, they have won the public’s support, and finished first and second in this year’s election as a result. The two will now battle it out for supremacy to see who can become Iraq’s next leader, and that will actually show the direction Iraq is heading in more than how the different lists finished in the voting.


AK News, “Early results according to observers,” 3/8/10
- “Observers: State of Law first, National list second, Iraqiya third in Karbala,” 3/8/10

Alsumaria, “Iraq Map – Iraq Parliamentary Elections 2010”

Aswat al-Iraq, “Talabani rules out major political changes post election,” 3/7/10

Al Jazeera, “Iraqi parties form new coalition,” 10/31/09

Levinson, Charles, “Iraqis Flock to Polls Despite Early Attacks,” Wall Street Journal, 3/7/10

Najm, Hayder, “coalition possible, constitution vital, says jaafari,” Niqash, 3/9/10

Sullivan, Marisa Cochrane and Danly, James, “Iraq On The Eve Of Elections,” Institute for the Study of War, 3/3/10


Jason said...

Still lots of uncertainty in the mix.

But one thing is indisputable, the list system, even the open one, absolutely sucks and should be completely scrapped. All those new, local upstarts and the people that voted for them are being robbed of representation. Terribly undemocratic and promotes a party-cronyism controlled political oligopoly.

Jason said...

Joel, are there serious ideological differences between Allawi and Maliki, or is opposition mainly due to personal ambition and dividing the spoils?

Joel Wing said...

Allawi says he opposes Iranian influence and would have better ties with the surrounding Arab countries. Right before the vote for example, he and Hashemi went on a tour of Arab capitals. Allawi is also a neo-Baathist and would be more open to former regime members and Sunnis.

The main difference as you point out however, is that they are political rivals and both want to be prime minister.

Jason said...

It will be very interesting to see how much each man can control his respective coalition partners once they are seated in parliament. Will they dance with the party-boss that brought them, or might they realign according to actual issues that concern more Iraqis than only those two constituents? All it would take is one guy to stand up and say, "Hey wait, maintaining a unified, non-sectarian Iraq is more important than following either of these two guys. Vote for me instead." I would love to be that guy, and see the reaction.

Middle East Nomad said...

Joel, can you comment on the status of possible vote rigging or interference in polling? I was reading Dar Al Hayat this morning and wondering how high public confidence is in the "free and fairness" of balloting this time around. Added to worries I'm sure is the time it is taking to hear final results, which was an effort to increase the credibility of those results, correct? Naturally, I'm sure the "loser", and that's looking like Allawi now, will claim fraud, but how serious could those claims be taken?

Great blog.

Joel Wing said...


First, understand that there are always irregularities and problems with Iraq's elections. In 2009 for example, thousands of displaced didn't get to vote because they didn't understand the registration rules. There were also plenty of other reports of problems.

2nd, even before the election all the major parties seemed to be claiming there was going to be fraud. I always feel that those that make those charges are just trying to make up for their own lack of success. They thought they would do better, but don't so they cry foul. You commented on that yourself.

Here's a brief rundown of some of the pre-election charges:

Ottaway, Marina, Kaysi, Danial, “The Election Campaign,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 3/5/10

Now that the votes are being tallied the National Movement, National Alliance, and Change are all charging fraud. I'm sure there are others.

I don't know the seriousness of any of the charges or how far it will go. My gut feeling is that the National Alliance, having come in 3rd behind Maliki and Allawi, and having already lost in the 2009 elections will make the biggest fuss.

Jason said...

According to the WSJ, UN officials observing the counting process are discounting the accusations of fraud. They report that 3 counters have been fired for making too many mistakes. The upside of that is that there are apparently redundant counts taking place to ensure accuracy and any mistakes are being caught and corrected as they go. A longer wait will be worth it if the count gets a clean bill of health.

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