Twenty-four hours after Iraq’s fourth parliamentary election concluded, global commentators and Iraqis together celebrated what they view to be “big developments”.
The victory sealed by the Sairoon alliance between the Sadrist Movement and the Iraqi Communist Party has been the hottest trending topic since polls closed.
Big parties came out on top with Sairoon assuming the lead followed by Fateh, a coalition of paramilitary Shia militia groups headed by Badr Corps commander and former transport minister Hadi Al-Ameri. Occupying the third and fourth rank is Iraq’s incumbent Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and predecessor Nouri Al-Maliki.
Ayad Allawi’s cross-sectarian coalition, ‘Wataniya, trailed not far behind despite his calls for the results to be dropped; alleging widespread voter fraud and rigging. Further down the list two parties stood neck to neck, Ammar Al-Hakim’s own Hikma (wisdom) party and Sunni Qarar Al-Iraqi (Iraq’s decision) list. Last but not least is Iraq’s Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), securing more votes than the six other Kurdish contenders in the race.
While figures may fluctuate once ballots cast abroad and by Iraq’s security and armed forces are added, the Iraqi street is rejoicing. The outcome has been less surprising to Iraqis inside than it has been to international commentators. The turnout in Baghdad on the day of voting barely surpassed 20 per cent, with officials laying the blame on tightened security measures. While the Iraqi High Electoral Commission said the turnout held at 44.5 per cent, the figure has been contested by a diverse chorus of actors, including observers and international watchdogs. As counting efforts are still underway, the statistical landscape is expected to change but it is unclear in whose favour.
Patronage, as a recent AP report found, is an important string election that candidates have typically pulled to maximise seats. The advantages however remained limited in light of the historically low turnout at elections.
Election boycott was favoured by Iraqis in record figures during this year. The appeal, adherents argue, is that it denies the existing political system legitimacy, and the parities it is comprised of. The scale of abstention has made it impossible for any of the 87 parties competing for parliamentary seats to win an absolute majority, as will become clearer during the government formation process.
The needs of Iraqi society have been recognised in the political campaigns of every running candidate. Yet the 15 years over which the same promises have been parroted did not inspire people to cast ballots.
Their grievances and frustrations have found new expression by means of abstention.
Whether or not to exercise voting rights was a matter left for the people to decide — as sanctioned by Iraq’s highest ranking Marji, Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.
Less important than tallies scored is the power of Iraq’s next prime minister to shape the new government, once crowned. The task is fraught with risks and difficulties, ones that few would voluntarily assume.
Even if Al-Sadr climbs on top and is crowned kingmaker, he can confer the responsibility to another bloc leader should he see himself less suited.
Other contenders with their eye on the prime ministerial spot alongside Al-Sadr, include the country’s presiding leader Haider Al-Abadi, former premier, Nouri Al-Maliki and close ally Hadi Al Ameri. The race will be close and the results will depend more on political negotiations behind closed doors to ensure that the choice satisfies the desires of America and Iran who have been embroiled in a bloody proxy war for over a decade.
While the people have spoken, their preferences are unlikely to translate into seats in parliament if the same parties dominate and continue to renegade on what their promises.
Reconstruction will be the new government’s biggest priority, alongside its ability to court investors and rehouse upwards of three million Iraqis whose homes were flattened in the fight against Daesh terrorists.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.