Iraq is in flux. Almost two weeks since Iraqis cast their votes, final election results are yet to be announced, and militant groups continue their threats of rejecting the outcome of the country's early parliamentary elections. The next few weeks will see a rise in rumours about possible candidates for the position of prime minister and which political parties may join a coalition government.
However, some elements are already clear. It is close to certain that the next government will be formulated largely by cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, who is set to have the largest number of seats in Parliament. By the current tally, the Sadrists will hold 73 of the 329 seats in parliament – the largest grouping in the legislature. But Mr Al Sadr will need to go into a coalition in order to get a majority capable of forming a government. The horse-jockeying and coalition-forming efforts currently taking place in Baghdad can take months – as has happened after previous elections. But more worrying is uptick in the rumour mill about fraud and ballot box tampering. The longer the process takes, the more damaging it is to the prospect of a stable transition. The transparency and orderliness in the lead-up to election day on October 10 is slowly but worryingly giving way to questions about the opaque nature of counting votes, finalising tallies and forming the government.
As political brinkmanship between various parties continues, Iraq’s Independent High Election Commission (IHEC) is currently looking into 1,372 appeals contesting the declared results of the elections. An IHEC official told The National this week that he does not foresee a major change in the final outcome of the elections as a result of the appeals. However, with the deep fragmentation among the parties, one or two seats changing sides can make all the difference in who forms the next government.
After looking into the appeals, IHEC will send them to the Judicial Commission, which will then review them. Once the Commission clears those appeals, the results will be sent to the High Federal Court for ratification. When they are ratified, Iraqi President Barham Salih will have to call Parliament into session. At every step, there will be efforts from a myriad of political actors, and particularly those who are set to lose out, to influence the results.
Iraqis fear the possibility of the electoral process failing like it did in 2010. In those elections, the former prime minister Ayad Allawi’s nationalist bloc, Al Iraqiya, won more seats than any other, with 91 seats, and so should have formed the government. However, then incumbent prime minister Nouri Al Maliki, with his State of Law list gaining 89 seats at the time, formulated a coalition of parties after the elections that allowed him to usurp Mr Allawi's success and form the government. Mr Al Sadr has already alluded to 2010 in remarks last week, insisting that he is “no Allawi”.
While Mr Al Sadr continues his deliberations, continued questions about final vote counts cast uncertainty about the whole process. The process itself was undercut by the fact that it had the lowest voter turnout for any election since 2003. With only 41 per cent of registered voters, and 36 per cent of all eligible voters, casting their votes, it is clear that the electoral process doesn’t have the legitimacy politicians would claim.
Two key groupings within Parliament are worth watching: independents and women. Both have a higher presence in the legislature than ever before, and both can help to change the political direction and discourse in the country. However, legacy political groups who gained strength through corruption and political manipulation will be keen to coerce both groups. At particular risk are independents, as they try to find the best path to create change within a system that has become largely corrupted.
A new class of independent candidates were able to win seats in Parliament both through campaigning directly to Iraqis and due to reforms of the electoral law. The Imtidad movement, led by pharamacist Alaa Al Rikabi, who became one of the most prominent faces of the October 2019 protests, was able to secure 10 seats in parliament. They are working to form a coalition of independents that would include Kurdish grouping “The New Generation”, which was able to win enough votes to hold 17 parliamentary seats but only had nine candidates.
The second grouping is that of women. The next Parliament is expected to have 97 seats held by women according to the current tally. That would represent 29 per cent of Parliament's 329 seats – 4 per cent higher than the mandated quota of 25 per cent initially placed to ensure women have a voice. While these women belong to different parties and follow different party politics, they can play a role in changing the mainly male-dominated political arena.
If you take a long view and assess the overall political landscape in Iraq, then these elections have produced fascinating results. However, if you are struggling to make ends meet, if you are sweltering from Iraq’s heat without electricity, and with a fear of renewed violence and uncertainty over government formation leading to further stalemate, these are worryingly uncertain times.