Monday, March 08, 2010

What were the March 2010 Iraqi elections about?

For some time now, Joel Wing's Musings on Iraq blog has been one of the most reliably well informed, informative, and intelligent sources of information and analysis about Iraq. (And that assessment doesn't require that one always agree with Wing's judgments, though it may be worth noting that I generally find them pretty much on-target.)

On Friday Wing put together a useful overview of the background, both immediate and longer-term, to the just-completed national elections in Iraq, including a line-up of the major political forces contesting the elections. He added some musings on the political stakes involved and some prognoses about possible outcomes. While we wait for the votes to get counted and for the actual outcomes to emerge, Wing's overview provides a good starting-point for trying to understand what just happened in Iraq.

It would be a good idea to read the whole thing, but some key passages are given below. Meanwhile, let me just highlight one point early in Wing's discussion:
The January [2009] provincial elections set several trends in Iraqi politics that will likely carry over into 2010. First, the voters punished the ruling parties in every province.
Something important ought to be noted here, before we take it too easily for granted. Applied to some countries, the last sentence in that quotation might sound unremarkable. But in the Arab world, for ruling parties to get "punished" at the polls is a very rare event. In fact, the whole idea of having consequential elections whose outcomes aren't fixed in advance is pretty exotic, though examples have not been completely unknown in some Arab countries (especially but not exclusively in Lebanon).

--Jeff Weintraub

Joel Wing (Musings on Iraq)
Friday, March 5, 2010
Lessons Learned From 2009 That Apply To The 2010 Iraqi Elections

In 2009 Iraq held two separate elections. First was the January provincial elections where voters in fourteen of Iraq’s eighteen governorates elected new local officials, and then in July the three provinces of Kurdistan held balloting for its regional parliament. Both of those elections hold important lessons for Iraq’s parliamentary vote that started on March 4, 2010 and will be completed March 7.

The January provincial elections set several trends in Iraqi politics that will likely carry over into 2010. First, the voters punished the ruling parties in every province. Many interpreted this as a return to Iraqi nationalism, and a rejection of the sectarian parties that had taken power in 2005, but that’s not entirely true. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law list for example, led by his Dawa Party, was considered the big winner in the vote as they won pluralities across southern Iraq and Baghdad, but even they were kicked out of office in Karbala, the only province that Dawa controlled after the January 2005 local elections. The major reason was that the provincial councils and governors had failed to develop the local economies, provide jobs, protect the public, and were known for corruption. [....]

A second trend is the fragmentation of Iraq’s large coalitions. In 2005 the country’s main parties coalesced into three blocs, the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front, and the Kurdish Alliance. They won control of the provinces and the parliament in the 2005 elections. Beginning in late-2008, these alliances broke apart. The first list to do so was the Accordance Front. In December 2008, the Iraqi National Dialogue Council withdrew from the alliance. In 2009 Vice President Tariq Hashemi, who had been the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest component of the Accordance Front, left and formed his own party, the Renewal. Next Maliki decided to form his own State of Law list to run in the 2009 provincial vote breaking in two the United Alliance. Finally, in the July 2009 Kurdish parliamentary vote, the Change list emerged as the main opposition party to the Kurdish Alliance. Today there are seven large lists that are likely to take the majority of seats in the new parliament.

Major Players In The 2005 Elections

United Iraqi Alliance – Made up of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the Dawa Party, Sadrists, Fadhila Party. Won 128 of 275 seats in parliament.
Kurdish Alliance – Kurdistan Democratic Party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Won 53 of 275 seats.
Iraqi Accordance Front – Iraqi Islamic Party, General Council for the People of Iraq, Iraqi National Dialogue Council. Won 44 of 275 seats.

Major Players In The 2010 Elections

State of Law – Dawa Party, Shiite Independents
Iraqi National Alliance – Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, Sadrists, Fadhila Party, former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari
Kurdish Alliance – Kurdistan Democratic Party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
Iraqi National Movement/Iraqiya – Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List, Iraqi National Dialogue Front, Vice President Hashemi’s Renewal, Al-Hadbaa Party, Ahrar Party
Unity of Iraq – Interior Minister Jawad Bolani’s Constitution Party, Anbar Sheikh Ahmad Abu Risha’s Awakening of Iraq and Independents
Iraqi Consensus – Iraqi Islamic Party, General Council for the People of Iraq
Change List – New Kurdish opposition party

[JW:And now more prognoses start getting mixed in.]
Last, voter turnout and who people support is still largely based upon ethnosectarian identity. In 2009 Shiites mostly voted for Shiites, Sunnis for Sunnis, and Kurds for Kurds. That is unlikely to change in 2010.
[JW: Yes and no. Early reports suggest that there was heavy Sunni Arab voting for Iyad Allawi's Iraqi National List, an avowedly cross-sectarian coalition headed by a relatively "secular" Shiite, Allawi. The extent to which that happened, and if so what it means, remain to be seen.]
Another pattern from last year was that Shiite participation went down, Sunni voting went up, and Kurds turned out in the same high levels. In 2005 Sunnis boycotted the provincial elections to protest the U.S. occupation. That meant in Anbar only 2% of the electorate showed up to the polls. In the governorate balloting in 2009 Sunnis voted in large numbers to make up for their lack of representation. Voter turnout in Salahaddin went from 29% in 2005 to 65% in 2009 as a result. At the same time, Shiite voting dropped, probably out of apathy due to the poor performance of their local officials. In Najaf for instance, voter participation went from 73% in 2005 to 55% in 2009. The Kurds on the other hand, continue to have the highest turnout in the country since they share many of the same interests, have not fragmented like the other large groups, and have a number of well-known politicians to choose from. In the July 2009 Kurdish parliamentary vote, 78.5% of the electorate participated. The lack of substantial issues being discussed in the run-up to the March vote may lead to another low turnout for Shiites, while Sunnis and Kurds could have higher numbers because they want to attain or maintain their current positions.
[JW: Early reports suggest that voter turnout among Shiite Arabs may not have gone down so sharply after all--but, again, this remains to be seen.]
[JW: Wing closes by risking some predictions,]
The patterns set in Iraq’s politics in 2009 will likely continue to play out into this year. Maliki is still the most popular politician in Iraq according to the latest polls, but being an incumbent will hurt him. His claim to have brought stability back to Iraq has been challenged by the 2009 bombings of Iraq’s ministries in Baghdad, and the nine provinces his State of Law controls have not been able to deliver the jobs and development that they promised due to budgetary constrains. He could still come out the winner, but only with a plurality slightly more than the runner-up. Second, the results of the election will reshuffle the lists in power, and the new ruling coalition will still be made up from the core of large parties that emerged after the fall of Saddam. Last, voter turnout will vary between Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.
[JW: All that sounds fairly plausible to me.]
These will all mean that whatever new government comes to power will act and look a lot like the old one. Whatever real change that happens will be the result of who becomes prime minister. If Maliki gets re-elected, there will be more deadlock in the legislature as his opponents line up to block the passage of major laws as happened in 2009. If someone else becomes prime minister that could clear the way for some laws like the oil law to be passed, but that would still be difficult due to differences amongst the major parties again pointing to more continuation of the status quo.
[JW: Maybe ... though I'm not so sure.]