Election Preview: Iraq 2010
Iraq’s 325-member Council of Representatives is up for re-election on March 7, the second elections for that chamber since the fall of Saddam Hussein and the third parliamentary elections since Saddam’s fall (there were elections in January 2005 for a Constituent Assembly, an election boycotted by Sunni voters).
The main lines in Iraqi politics are religious lines, with three major groups: the Shi’a coalition, the Sunni coalition and a Kurdish coalition. There are also smaller secular parties, but the fact of the matter is that Iraqi elections are played on strict sectarian cleavages. The country’s Shi’a majority dominated the Constituent Assembly and got a constitution passed with little Sunni support, and they obviously dominate elections.
Here are the main coalitions ahead of the vote:
Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, the leader of the old Islamic Dawa Party, has organized his supporters in the State of Law Coalition, the same which won the 2009 governorate elections by a good margin. The State of Law Coalition remains quasi-exclusively Shi’a, despite past attempts to bring various Sunni groupings such as the Awakening movements in the coalition. One could consider Maliki’s coalition as the most pro-American Shi’a coalition.
The Shi’a parties contested the 2005 elections united under the name of the United Iraqi Alliance, but Maliki’s Dawa Party has left the coalition. The coalition for the 2010 elections includes the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) and the Sadrist Movement led by Shi’a cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr. In addition, the coalition has been joined by former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and his outfit. The SIIC lost control of its traditional base in Basra to Al-Maliki’s coalition in the 2009 elections, the SIIC administration there having been particularly inept.
The main Sunni coalition in the 2005 elections, the Iraqi Accord Front, has been hit hard by defections, notably the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest component of the coalition. A number of Sunni voters have probably shifted their support to the Iraqi National Movement. The Iraqi National Movement includes some secular movements such as that led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi (who is a Shi’ite, but was originally involved in the pre-Saddam Baath Party) but also the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, a major Sunni alliance which decided in the end not to boycott the elections (because the INDF’s leader was banned from standing due to past association with Saddam’s Baath Party).
Politics in Iraqi Kurdistan have historically been dominated by two major parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Both parties have formed a rather solid alliance both at the regional level and national level, now known as the Kurdistani List. However, the stranglehold of both parties was weakened in the 2009 regional election, when a reformist coalition led mostly by PUK dissidents won a quarter of the votes. While the KDP-PUK wanted the reformists and the Kurd Islamists to join their coalition, both refused.
The Awakening movement, which is strong in Sunni Al-Anbar, have formed a coalition with other parties known as “Iraq’s Unity”. The coalition is led by Jawad Al-Bulani, a Shi’a.
For reference, here are the 2005 results:
United Iraqi Alliance 41.2% winning 128 seats
Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan 21.7% winning 53 seats
Iraqi Accord Front 15.1% winning 44 seats
Iraqi National List 8% winning 25 seats
Iraqi National Dialogue Front 4.1% winning 11 seats
Kurdistan Islamic Union 1.3% winning 5 seats
Others 9 seats (including 1 Turkmen, 1 Assyrian and 1 Yazidi)
Unlike the closed list PR elections in 2005, the 2010 elections will be under an open list. Furthermore, the legislature’s size will grow from 275 in 2005 to 325. All governorates will gain at least one seat, but the ‘compensatory seats’ (seats allocated to those parties whose national share of the vote isn’t reflected in the seats won at the governorate level) will drop significantly from 45 to 7, with an additional 8 new seats reserved to minorities, including Iraqi Christians (Assyrians). The vote of Iraqis abroad, originally due to be counted in the compensatory seats will be counted in the governorate where they last lived.
It’s hard to predict the outcome of this election, especially because the very strict sectarian divides of the 2005 elections have subsided a bit and the main sectarian coalitions have split. Al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition is probably favoured, and Allawi’s coalition is probably his biggest rival followed closely by the SIIC-Sadrist coalition. While no major party has announced a boycott, turnout is apparently supposed to be lower than in 2005.
A referendum on the Iraq-US Status of Forces Agreement is also scheduled. The SOFA includes the withdrawal of all US troops by the end of 2011.