IRAQ ELECTIONS: Government formation offers glimmer of hope for true change

After the final results of Iraq’s October election were announced by the country’s electoral authorities recently, it was still hard to tell what shape the next government might take.

By Sara al-Qaher, in Baghdad

The results were surprising and “will add up to new equations for political alliances,” Najm al-Ghazi, a professor of political science at Dhi Qar university in Nasiriyah, says.

Al-Ghazi believes the results will lead to even longer delays in government formation due to the fact that political parties will doubtless argue about which bloc is the biggest.

In order to form a government in Iraq, political parties need to create a majority bloc in parliament and al-Ghazi and others believe the process could take as long as the middle of next year.

The results of the October 10, 2021, elections saw previously powerful parties lose support.

In the final count, the most seats were won by parties related to the Sadrist movement, a political movement led by a Shiite Muslim cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. The Sadrists gained 73 out of 329 seats.

The Sunni Muslim alliance – Taqadum, or Progress – led by the current Speaker of Parliament, Mohammed al-Halbusi, won 37 seats.

The State of Law coalition, which is Muslim and led by the former Shiite Muslim prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, got 33 seats.

The Iraqi Kurdish parties – the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan – managed to get 49 seats altogether.

The independent political parties that represented the anti-government protest movements from 2019, known as the Tishreen movement, won 15 seats.

The biggest loser in the elections was the Fateh alliance, which is strongly affiliated with Shiite Muslim paramilitary groups aligned with Iran. They only won 17 seats, compared to the 47 they previously held.

The National Wisdom movement, led by another Shiite Muslim cleric, Ammar al-Hakim, and an alliance led by another former Shiite Muslim prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, also suffered heavy losses. They only won four seats, compared to a previous 60.

The decline in the influence of the latter parties and the comparative success of the independents indicates just how much Iraqi voters’ attitudes have changed. Many voters are disillusioned, believing that the established political parties will never effect the changes they want and need.

At the moment, there are still many uncertainties as to who can form the largest bloc in parliament and thus have the right to form a government.

Observers fear that some of the so-called independent candidates will join the larger parties.

The Shiite Muslim parties affiliated with Iran may be able to form a larger bloc than the winners of the election, although this may be that local electoral authorities need to assess. This option would involve the State of Law group joining with the Fateh alliance and adding some other, smaller Shiite Muslim parties or politicians.

Another potential option is having the Sadrist group join up with the Sunni Muslim Progress parties and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, as well as some independents.

Possibly the most realistic scenario right now is the formation of a consensus government, with a compromise candidate as prime minister. The fact that Shiite Muslim parties are so divided gives Sunni Muslim and Kurdish representatives more leverage in who is chosen as prime minister.

It seems unlikely that the two Shiite Muslim groups would iron out their differences and somehow come together, al-Ghazi points out. That’s despite the fact that they would easily form the largest bloc, if they did so.

When the two groups did come together recently, their meetings focused on general matters, such as addressing corruption.

According to al-Ghazi, all of the above is a small reason to hope that political change might yet come to Iraq. The technocratic politicians that have been elected, a much higher number of women MPs and the wide variety of different voices now in power make him more optimism, he says.

The first step on this road to genuine change would be the formation of Iraq’s first ever, genuine parliamentary opposition group, al-Ghazi argues. That is something that the various independent candidates have already said they will do.

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