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Iraqi Election Results: Shiites Near Majority in Parliament

by Juan Cole (reposted)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Iraqi Election Results: Shiites Near Majority in Parliament

Shiite clerical leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim narrowly avoided being assassinated as the election results were announced in Iraq on Friday.

The Shiite fundamentalist coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, won 128 of 275 seats in parliament. It needs 138 for a simple majority. The Risaliyun or Message Party won 2 seats; it represents the Sadr movement of young Shiite clerical nationalist Muqtada al-Sadr, and has announced that it will vote with the UIA. So for all practical purposes, the UIA has 130 seats, 8 short of a simple majority.

The Kurds have 53 seats. Together the religious Shiites and the Kurds have 183. Although it is often said that a 2/3s majority of 275 would be 184, I count it as 183.3 and should think that one rounds down rather than up. By that calculation, the two have the votes to choose a president, who will certainly ask the UIA to form a government and provide the prime minister. Even if they need one further seat, surely they could trade horses with one of the small parties to achieve that.

I'm not sure that the UIA can pick up the 8 from the small parties that would give it a semi-permanent majority across issues. The Yazidis, a heterodox religious group, have one seat, and they are afraid of Muslim fundamentalism. The Christians have a seat and they deeply dislike the Shiite religious parties, as well as the Kurds. The Turkmen have one seat. These are presumably Sunni Turkmen and if so they deeply dislike the Kurds and Shiites. Mithal al-Alusi, a Western-style liberal has a seat, and he will avoid the UIA. A small liberal Sunni party of ex-Baathist Mishaan Juburi has three seats and will not ally with the Shiites. The Kurdish Islamists have 5 seats and will presumably ally with the Sunni fundamentalists of the Iraqi Accord Front. These 12 seats are the only "independents" in parliament and would only vote with the UIA if they were heavily bribed with enormous perquisites. The only argument for 8 of these to join the Shiites would be that by doing so they would gain some enormous influence far beyond their small numbers in society.

Still, as the largest cohesive bloc, the Shiite religious coalition will certainly form the government for the next 4 years and will provide the prime minister. Their victory is a major setback for the Bush administration, which had backed the secular list of Iyad Allawi, al-Iraqiyah. The Iraqiyah's representation was substantially cut back, to only 25 seats. The Shiite religious parties have warm relations with Tehran and form a new arena for Iranian influence in the Middle East. The Bush administration hope that Allawi or his list members can be shoe-horned into important posts in the new government strikes me as forlorn unless there is American coercion of some sort. They lost, and the spoils go to winners.

The UIA can govern, as Ariel Sharon used to in Israel, however, by putting together an ad hoc parliamentary coalition on each individual issue. Where implementation of Islamic law is the issue, probably the Sunni fundamentalists of the Iraqi Accord Front (44 seats) will vote with the UIA. Where SCIRI supports loose federalism, it can depend on the Kurds' 53 seats to offset possible defections from the Sadr faction, which favors strong central government.

Al-Hayat [Ar.] argues that this result leads not so much to a national unity government as to a hung parliament or an extremely weak and fragile ruling coalition where the prime minister is always in danger of losing a vote of no confidence.

The same source reports that Ammar al-Hakim, son of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, objected strongly to the formula used by the electoral commission in the distribution of seats. He said that some small parties which had not actually reached the cut-off for a seat (some 40,000 votes) had been awarded a seat nevertheless, contrary to the practice of the previous election. The UIA clearly feels that its actual majority was stolen from it by the new procedure.

Likewise, the Turkmen argued that they are 11 percent of Kirkuk and have substantial populations in Ninevah province, and it is not possible that they should only have received one seat. (Note that the major Turkmen city of Tal Afar was emptied in the run-up to the elections by an American assault, deeply disadvantaging the Turkmen in this election vis a vis the Kurds). Likewise, the (Sunni) National Accord Front insisted that it had half the votes in Baghdad but that there was election fraud. - al-Zaman.

One question is whether the 58 Sunni Arabs, the 5 Kurdish Islamists and the Sadr faction will combine to pass an early resolution by simple majority demanding an immediate US withdrawal of troops.

Significant Sunni participation in the parliament, with 58 seats altogether, will not affect the guerrilla movement, which rejects the new style of politics. Guerrillas have unleashed grisly bombing campaigns that show no sign of letting up.

(Still traveling. Will try to comment on al-Qaeda developments soon.)

posted by Juan @ 1/21/2006 06:30:00 AM   

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