Since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, Iraq has held three rounds of parliamentary elections that produced four governments. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari headed the 2005 cabinet. He remained in his post for a few months and was succeeded by Nouri al-Maliki for two terms between 2006 and 2014. He was followed by the current government of PM Haidar al-Abadi.
Iraq’s 36 million people are now bracing for the fourth parliamentary elections, set for May 12, amid an intense battle, threat of arms and heated political rhetoric and what observers said was one of the closest races in years.
The elections are shaping up to not only elect new lawmakers, but also a new prime minister, who will likely be chosen from the bloc that enjoys a majority at the parliament.
The positions of the president, prime minister and parliament speaker are occupied by a Kurdish, Shi’ite and Sunni candidate respectively. The prime minister, however, acts as the country’s executive power and therefore much attention has been directed to who will win the parliamentary majority.
So far, it appears that this majority will be won by any one of the main Shi’ite blocs. They are the al-Nasr party, headed by Abadi, Rule of Law, headed by Maliki, al-Fatah, headed by Haidar al-Amiri, Sairoun Alliance, headed by Moqtada al-Sadr and al-Hikma, headed by Ammar al-Hakim. The door has, however, been left open for surprises, which appear likely now more than ever.
Dawa Party: Where to?
During the previous three elections, the position of prime minister was not only limited to Shi’ites, but to the Rule of Law and Dawa parties. Many observers believe that this reality will change on May 12.
This probability was raised after a major dispute erupted between the parties’ respective leaders, Abadi and Maliki. The Dawa party has emerged the weaker of the two in the equation, with the current premier favorite to win a second term in office.
Currently, 7,000 candidates, representing over 200 bodies have presented their electoral platforms in campaigns that will end on May 11.
A new government is expected to be formed no more than two months after the polls. Foreign meddling in the shape of influential powers, the United States and Iran, has not been ruled out. Furthermore, observers suspect that they will play a major role in forming the new cabinet.
Iran has not shied away from flaunting its influence in Iraq, with its officials making open and secret visits to the neighboring country. It is driven by the need to see the Shi’ite ranks preserve their unity. This goal, however, appears to have failed due to the emergence of the above mentioned Shi’ite parties, which has led to this year’s elections being the most competitive since 2003.
The US, meanwhile, announced last week that it was ready to cooperate with any candidate who wins the polls. The administration of President Donald Trump has not outwardly voiced its support to any specific candidate.
Given the above, the shape of the elections has not emerged yet, even though man predictions have been made about their outcomes and sizes of blocs that will be produced.
MP Salah al-Jabouri, of the Diyala province, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The available factors are still very vague, but all predictions indicate that there will be very few seats separating each bloc.”
The national alliance, which is expected to win the majority, is not expected to obtain no more than 45 seats.
He also did not rule out the possibility of each bloc going back to their old habits after the elections are complete. He explained that Shi’ite powers will most likely form the largest parliamentary bloc and control who becomes prime minister. The Sunni Arabs will once again return to forming a united Sunni front.
Kurdish MP Sarwa Abdul Wahed told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The electoral programs have not changed much from others proposed during previous polls. Everyone speaks of combating corruption, but no one has specified how. No one is talking about how to build a state and its institutions.”
These programs will remain empty words until they are implemented in the post-elections phase, she added.
In contrast to previous years, civil rhetoric has emerged during this year’s electoral campaign, while the religious one has waned.
Secretary General of the Iraqi Communist Party Raed Fahmy told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The civilian movements have not formed a united front for the upcoming elections.”
“The surprise however lies in the alliance with the Sairoun party,” he added, noting that even though it is an Islamic movement, it chose to side with a civil one.
“The general belief is that civil speech will impose itself on the Iraqi scene because we cannot reproduce the same status quo that was previously present in the country,” he continued.
The question now is, to what extent can civil rhetoric play a role in Iraq? Fahmy asked.
There are many positive indications that favor civil speech, including the easing of sectarian incitement. “Those who tried to push for a sectarian agenda have failed completely,” he stressed.
Return to old habits
Despite this optimism, Iraqi politician and academic Dr. Nadim al-Jaberi told Asharq Al-Awsat that political blocs may return to sectarian lines once the elections are over.
He added that forming a new government was attached to more than just winning a parliamentary majority. The process is linked to unavoidable difficult balances with various blocs.
Moreover, he said that a return to old sectarian alliances has become a habit that is difficult to give up.