Iraqi Citizens Punish Bad Governance and Sectarian Politics at the Ballot
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On January 31, 2009, 14 out of 18 Iraqi provinces held their second provincial elections since the fall of the Baathist Regime in 2003. Provincial elections in 2005 yielded strong support for sectarian and ethnically based parties that prefigured the escalation of tensions and violence in the following three years. Likewise, a widespread Sunni Arab boycott led to poorly balanced and non-representative provincial bodies that reflected the general marginalisation of the community in the post-war state-building process and contributed to the rise of sectarian violence and the Islamist insurgency. Besides violence, the rule of the sectarian parties also inflicted mismanagement, corruption and nepotism on Iraqi citizens. The result has been an overall decline in the popular appeal for these parties and particularistic approaches in general, and rising support for the central government in Baghdad and its attempts at strengthening the sway of the Iraqi state.
Rising support for the central government
The provincial elections of 2009 seem to confirm this shift in the political landscape, with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and his Da’wa Party - based in the Shia community, but recently promoting a nationalist discourse and alliance strategy - coming out on top. Thus, the Maliki-backed "Rule of Law" list won key provinces such as Baghdad and Basra, with smaller secular groups also gaining ground, while the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraqi (ISCI), the biggest Shiite party in Parliament and the Sadrist Movement led by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr experienced serious setback, as did the Iraqi Islamic Party (the largest Sunni party in parliament). Maliki’s success also signifies the decline of the federalist project among Arab Iraqis (elections in the predominantly Kurdish provinces will be held in May), which is advocated by ISCI and the Basra-based Fadhila Party, in addition to the two parties forming the Kurdistan Alliance.
It is important to note that the election results not only indicate a move away from sectarian-based politics, but also that Iraqi citizens decided to punish bad governance at the polls, which will also force the incoming councils to conduct themselves with some transparency and accountability.
Iraqis able to organise nation-wide elections by themselves
Impressively - given the quantity and intensity of sectarian and ethnic mayhem over the past three years -, Iraqis are not prepared to grant carte blanche to politicians whose main (or sole) pitch is “defence” of their ethno-sectarian community. Significantly also, these elections were held with minimum support from the US-led coalition forces and proved that Iraqis are able to organise nation-wide elections by themselves, and be responsible for their own security.
The following report summarises the main features of the 2009 elections, concentrating on the main political parties, the conduct of the electoral process, and attempts to offer a preliminary evaluation of the results and their impact on Iraq. Its sources are mostly local Iraqi newspapers and TV stations, reports by local Iraqi NGOs, and the website of the Independent Higher Electoral Commission of Iraq (IHEC), as well as key reports by Western based think tanks and Western newspapers. We should note that the IHEC has only released preliminary results, and seats in the new provincial councils will not be allocated until the final results are in. A comprehensive background analysis for the elections and of the performance of the former provincial councils is available from the International Crisis Group’s latest report on Iraq. The report contains a substantial analysis of the performance of the former provincial councils.