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Complaints in basra, even from the winners

Saleem al-Wazzan
Of the 24 seats available in Basra Province in the March general elections, Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition managed to take 14. Basra offers the second largest number of seats available in any province…
31.03.2010  |  Basra

However, on the back of Iyad Allawi’s overall victory, supporters of Maliki and the State of Law coalition are demanding an investigation from the Independent High Election Commission (IHEC) in an attempt to overturn the result. Supporters of the coalition are mobilising people demonstrate against what they call ‘the return of the Baathists to power’. They accuse IHEC of fraud in their electronic vote counting.

“There are some irregularities in the actions of IHEC’s staff and there were also acts of fraud,” said Sheikh Mansour al-Kanaan, a member of the State of Law coalition. “IHEC should accept the peoples’ demands for investigations.”

Demonstrations against the result began even before the official announcement with hundreds of people, including Basra’s governor, Dr. Shitlagh Abboud, taking to the streets. Some people do not believe that the protests really convey the feelings of local people, however.

“These demonstrations were not spontaneous,” said one worker in an iron and steel factory, who wished to remain nameless. “The management of the company exerts lots of pressure on its 6,000 employees to demonstrate against the results. The same pressure is exerted on employees in many other government departments.”

“Some managers who are Dawa Party members took advantage of their positions to force their employees to demonstrate. They have used government money and government employees – by using the company’s cars and freezing production – for party political purposes.”

Allawi’s results across Iraq surprised many in Maliki’s coalition and have led some members of the Basra provincial council – dominated by the State of Law coalition – to threaten to declare a federal state made up of the nine Shia provinces. The demand is an old one, associated more with groups like the Islamic Supreme Council. Maliki has until now opposed the demand as a strong supporter of central government. With defeat looming, however, it is possible his position on the matter will change.

It is strange to see Maliki’s supporters protesting against the elections results when they are the only list that can really be happy with their results. In Basra itself, Allawi’s Iraqi list was disappointed. They won three seats in the province, on the back of around 75,000 votes. The statistics show that Allawi’s list actually performed worse in Basra this year compared to in 2005, when his list won around 150,000 seats.

“People declined to vote for Iraqiyya for reasons not related to the list’s programme or to their perception of Allawi himself,” said a member of Allawi’s party. “There are many people in Basra who would prefer Allawi as Prime Minister compared to other candidates. However, with the changes made to the voting system, people see that they are voting for local politicians who they don’t trust as much or who are unpopular.”

Ahead of this election, a new law was brought in whereby voters would no longer vote for a list headed by its candidate for Prime Minister but for the local representatives of the list.

Not only was Allawi’s list disappointed with its performance in Basra but almost every other list was, too. The Iraqi National Alliance, headed by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, won seven seats: three of them went to the Sadrist Stream, one to Sheikh Faez al-Kanaan, for the Shiite Sheikha sect. The two compensatory seats have not yet been distributed. Former MP Wael Abdul Latif, for the National Alliance, a former governor and a leading figure in the city was unable to collect enough votes to qualify him for a seat in the Parliament. It is unlikely he will be given the two compensatory seats granted to ISCI because other candidates have stronger claims.

The ISCI, also disappointed with their results, plan to contest their score in Basra.

“We deserve eight seats, not seven, according to the number of votes we won,” said Ali Waheeb, the ISCI’s official spokesperson for political affairs in Basra. “There was a mistake in the computer programme used by IHEC and we will contest the results.”

Among the other competitors in Basra, the smaller, secular parties, including the Communist and Socialist parties did not perform well. The Peoples’ Union list, headed by the Communist Party, was not able to win any single seat, taking just 6,500 votes, a total that keeps it under the required threshold. The secular Al-Aharar list headed by the independent cleric, Iyad Jamaluddin, and the al-Alousi list won 4,000 votes each but they, like the Islamic Party, representing the region’s Sunni minority all missed out on a seat.

Abbas al-Jourani, a member of the Communist Party’s local committee blamed a mix of internal factors and economic factors on the poor results for secular parties.

“Leftist forces did not react actively and ar fragmented,” he said. “The Socialist Movement joined the State of Law coalition and the Democratic National Party joined the INA. Neither won any seats,” he said, adding that economic forces also played an important role.

“Leftist forces do not have the needed financial means. Their capacity to maneuver was very limited.”

With all but Maliki’s party disappointed in Basra, there is perhaps good reason for some of the complaints made to IHEC by losers in the province. What is strange, however, is that the protests on the streets of Basra, following the announcement of Maliki’s success there, are coming from State of Law supporters.