|Maliki's State of Law came away as the big winner in the 2014 elections (BBC)|
1. Maliki’s State of
Law walked away with 95 seats in this year’s election. Approximately how many
other parties are aligned with him right now and around how many seats will
that give him?
Maliki’s potential support base outside State of Law can be
conceptualized as a set of concentric circles with increasingly weaker loyalty
to him. Immediately outside State of Law with 95 seats, and with good chances
of future loyalty, is a stratum of a couple of deputies with a history of close
ties to the State of Law, who have continued to maintain friendly relations
with Maliki despite running separately. They include Haytham al-Jibburi of the
Kafaat & Jamahir movement and Ali Taleb Abd al-Hasan of the Solidarity in
Iraq movement, a party affiliated with the Dhi Qar cleric Muhammad Mahdi
al-Nasiri who is considered pro-Maliki, and Ali Subhi al-Maliki of the Just
State movement (who had Maliki’s picture on his own election poster). Subsequent
to the publication of the results, politicians from the two first of these
movements went on to claim they had formally enrolled in the State of Law
alliance, as did two deputies from a local list in Najaf with a somewhat more
secular profile. This segment also includes one seat for the Sadiqun party
considered close to the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, although it is noteworthy
that this movement, despite much hype about it in Western media, failed to make
much of an impression on the Iraqi electorate. Nothing is set in stone, though.
Another deputy from Kafaat & Jamahir, former interior minister Jawad
al-Bolani, first reportedly joined the pro-[Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq] ISCI
Muwatin bloc before subsequently joining Maliki, bringing the total of his
State of Law bloc to around 101 seats plus the 1 Asaib Ahl al-Haq seat (which
probably no one else will have anything to do with anyway).
Beyond these 102 deputies, I think the loyalties of the
parties considered close or potentially close to Maliki is far more open to
negotiation. Despite some points of contact in the past, there has also been
periods of friction with Maliki. This includes the 6 seats of the Shia Islamist
Fadhila, the one seat of the Tanzim
al-Dakhil branch of the Daawa (they broke acrimoniously with Maliki in August
2009 when they joined [Iraqi National Alliance] INA ahead of the 2010 general
election), and the 6 seats of Ibrahim al-Jaafari (whose role as unofficial PM
candidate of INA and thus a challenger to Maliki in 2010 is often forgotten).
That’s 15 extra seats, but their alliance with Maliki is no more of a foregone
conclusion than the case is with respect to some of the smaller secular and
religious minority parties such as the Iraq Coalition (5 seats) or the two
Anbar lists (3 plus 2 seats) often cited as potential Maliki allies.
2. There was some
talk before the vote about how many seats the prime minister would need to win
to give him the upper hand in the government formation talks. Do you believe there
was such a tipping point and if so did he achieve that amount?
Maliki would have needed closer to 120 seats in order to
truly achieve the upper hand. With the results that materialized, Maliki will
need to compromise with at least one (and probably two) of his main opponents –
the Kurds, Sadr, Hakim, Nujafi or Allawi.
3. For the last
several years Prime Minister Maliki has talked about forming a majority
government. Do you think that’s possible after the 2014 elections, and would it
make a more effective administration?
I think the concept of a political majority would be good
for Iraq if it was attainable. In 2010, Allawi and Maliki could have achieved
it if they hadn’t been strong personal enemies. This year, I don’t think the
numbers will add up but they are tantalizingly close to the required majority
and I fear Maliki’s hubris will make him expend a lot of energy trying to reach
such a majority anyway. It should be remembered that even in the previous Iraqi
parliament, State of Law deputies would frequently talk about a “political
majority” in contexts when they were very far from achieving this. One
potential variation of the theme would be Maliki joining with the Kurds, which
could be sufficient basis for a majority. The only thing that would keep them
united, though, would be agreement on a third Maliki term. Indeed, most of
Maliki’s rhetoric in favor of a political majority has focused on criticism of
Kurdish independent oil policy. Still, the possibility of Maliki turning around
and offering some concessions for a guarantee of a third term should not be
4. Maliki’s stated
opponents, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Ahrar/Liberals, Ammar Hakim’s Mowatin/Citizen’s
Alliance, Speaker Osama Nujafi’s Mutahidun/Uniters, Kurdish President Massoud
Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and Iyad Allawi’s
Wataniya/Nationalist Coalition won 138 seats between them. That would seem to
give them the advantage over the prime minister, but as ever their main problem
is keeping a unified stance. Do you think they have any better chance to
achieve that than in 2012 when some of these same parties attempted a no
confidence vote against Maliki?
The relative numerical strength of these parties vis a vis
Maliki is less now than in 2012, where it may have been close to 160 out of 325
at its height – before Iran ordered the Sadrists to back down. When it comes to
manipulating the segment of parties in the range from 1 to 3 deputies, Maliki
probably has an advantage of incumbency compared to his enemies.
|Allawi (left), Speaker Nujafi (center), Dep PM Mutlaq (right) are trying to create a Sunni Alliance (Shafaq News)|
5. As a follow up to
that Speaker Nujafi is talking about creating a grand Sunni alliance consisting
of him, Allawi and Deputy Premier Saleh al-Mutlaq. What chance does that have
of working out?
I think the chances of it working out are limited, not least
because they have spent a good deal energy splitting up from the 2010 alliance.
Additionally, it is unlikely to become politically relevant since Maliki’s interest
in these groups mainly relates to the prospect of one of them breaking ranks
with the others and then joining Maliki.
6. In a similar vein,
Sadr and Hakim seem to be focusing upon reforming the National Alliance that
they were part of in 2010. What do you think they hope to achieve with that?
Sadr and Hakim may have been hoping to reconstitute the Shiite
alliance and then have Maliki replaced with someone they like better
personally. That plan lost some of its momentum because of Maliki’s relative
success in term of a good personal vote and an increase of his share of the
parliament seats despite the Najaf clergy clearly sending signals about the
desirability of replacing him with someone else. At the time of the election
there was much talk of Tareq Najm [parliamentarian from State of Law] as a
possible substitute for Maliki. Already that kind of talk has faded somewhat.
7. With every vote in
Iraq there come complaints about the winners cheating. Maliki’s opponents are
all claiming that he fixed the balloting one way or another, while most of the
Kurdish parties are accusing the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan of fraud as well.
Do you think there is any merit to these charges, and more importantly could
they change the results if the Iraqi Election Commission takes any of them up?
A couple of points on this. I think if IHEC was as corrupt
as some claim, Maliki would have got a bigger win and he would not have lost so
many key allies and friends (who lost out in the personal vote). It is still
unclear which way IHEC’s decision will go with respect to the complaints. They
have released data from the special vote for the security forces as well as the
“Baghdad belt” (where accusations of ballot-stuffing to Maliki’s advantage
materialized). Questions still remain after these attempts at creating enhanced
transparency. For example, in the security force vote, the Maliki vote in Diyala
and the PUK vote in Sulaymaniya seem artificially high. Similarly, with respect
to the “Baghdad belt” vote, IHEC has released data that show suspiciously high
participation at some stations, but it has released results only at the
aggregate level of the counting centers. To allay fears about ballot stuffing,
it should release results for individual stations in the “Baghdad belt”, and in
particular those with participation rates in the 80-95% range.
8. Quite a few
prominent Iraqi parliamentarians were defeated in this year’s balloting. Can
you name some of them, and do you think this points to some accountability
being established in the country?
Deputies who lost their seats include Hassan al-Sunayd, Ali
Shalah, Khalid al-Attiya, Yasin Majid, Walid al-Hilli, Ihsan al-Awwadi, Sami
al-Askari and Izzat al-Shabandar from the Maliki camp. Similarly Nassar
al-Rubayyie and Maha al-Duri, from the Sadrist list, lost their seats.
This is the beauty of the personal vote in Iraq, and,
incidentally, I think, an indication of the integrity of what IHEC is doing.
Using the personal vote has become the norm with 80-90% of all voters
expressing a candidate preference in the materials that I have been working
with. In the big cities, in particular, personal votes radically affect the
ranking of the candidates, with people far down on the lists promoted to top
positions through the actions of the electorates in places like Basra, Baghdad
9. Internal issues
are only part of the picture when it comes to Iraqi politics. The United
States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran all have tried to play a role in the
country. How might each attempt to influence the government formation process?
I think there is a real difference between these regional
powers as regards their ability to micro-manage the government formation
process. Iran may want to see the next Iraqi PM emerge as the result of a
decision by a united Shiite alliance. It can exercise leverage to have that
alliance reconstituted and in turn influence the process of PM candidate
selection within the alliance. Turkey may influence the preferences of the
Iraqi Kurdish parties, though it is noteworthy that in theory the Shiites can
form a government without Kurdish support this time. This fact somewhat reduces
Turkish leverage. Finally, the influence of Saudi Arabia is much less than the
two others, and primarily relates to the precise level, intensity and sourness of
discontent expressed by its friends among Iraqi Sunnis and seculars.