It is now more than eleven days since the polls closed in Iraq’s March 7 election, and we still have no final answer. The latest information on the election commission’s website tells us that 89% of the total vote has now been counted. How long will that last 11% take?
The long-drawn-out process by which the votes have been tallied, checked, and provisional vote-counts released has led to swings in expectations– as of now, it seems that Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya bloc is ahead by a hair– and a growing drumbeat of concern about the integrity of the counting process. Today, some supporters of PM Nouri al-Maliki were reported by Reuters as complaining about vote fraud. Over at the BBC, meanwhile, Allawi was judiciously saying only that “there are irregularities that must be clarified”, though Stephen Sackur was– in a highly irresponsible way– trying to push him into making outright allegations of vote fraud.
What does seem to be the case as of now is that followers of Moqtada Sadr, acting within the broader INA bloc, have been doing much better than anyone expected. Reidar Visser has calculated that, at the two-thirds-counted mark, in the twelve provinces in which the INA has been a big factor, the Sadrists had pulled in 34 of the 65 seats won by the INA.
Many commentators are now predicting that the Sadrists will be able to play a key kingmaking role once all the count has been completed, since Maliki’s State of Law bloc and Allawi’s Iraqiyya will most likely come out very closely tied. Because of the close finish, the coalition-forming process this time around may well prove to be as long-drawn-out and politically complex as it was after the December 2005 election. Though let us all very fervently hope, pray, and (where possible) work so that this period of political uncertainty does not see the same kind of horrendous descent into sectarian violence that Iraq saw back in early 2006.
I do think that this time around, the clear understanding by all parties that the U.S. occupation troops are now, absolutely, on their way out— in implementation of the November 2008 Withdrawal Agreement– should help motivate all authentically Iraqi political figures to find a way to cooperate with each other in this period rather than engaging in an orgy of political violence while still hoping that at some stage the U.S. will save their skins (which was one of the things that, I think, happened in 2006.)
Visser had these additional comments on the Sadrists:
- it seems the Sadrists were a lot more successful with their “primaries” last autumn than ISCI… One of the remarkable aspects of the Sadrist success is their ability to use the open-list vote strategically, i.e. by spreading the vote on a number of winning candidates across the list (the more usual pattern is that a limited number of highly popular candidates stand out)… Additionally, the Sadrists, led by a 7-man committee of scholars based in Najaf who have liaised with Muqtada al-Sadr, have put a great effort into promoting individual candidates and providing voters with information on their educational and career backgrounds. But Sadrist voters are not doing this blindly: Some Sadrist candidates have been effectively demoted, such as Qusay Abd al-Wahhab, number six on the original list in Baghdad, and a deputy in the outgoing parliament.
… It seems inevitable that the remarkable Sadrist comeback at some point will be reflected in different coalition-forming dynamics. So far, this tentative process has remained dominated by the old elites, but what is really the point in negotiating with a 16-man bloc such as ISCI/Badr? With 34 plus candidates, the Sadrist will form a sizeable contingent of deputies comparable to the Kurdistan Alliance and as such will constitute an independent centre of power in the next Iraqi parliament.