One of the main reasons why some politicians in Iraq have been calling for a delay in elections, currently slated to be held in mid-May, is because of the disarray in provinces the extremist group known as the Islamic State previously controlled.
Often the would-be voters are still displaced or only just returning home to cities where fierce fighting took place. Many of these areas were Sunni-Muslim-majority places, which is why Sunni Muslim politicians have been particularly vocal about delaying elections.
There is a distinctive feature in this electoral cycle that reflects the national mood, a preference for unity and constitutional, civil society.
Should federal elections go ahead – and they look likely to, at the moment – then there are two concerns about the displaced locals who are returning to the province of Salahaddin. The first is that those returning will simply not vote. Despite the best efforts of the election authorities, locals may simply have better things to do.
“In our experience, the priority of most of the displaced people is food, reconstruction, and their essential needs,” says Ali Jaber Saleh, an activist working with displaced people in Salahaddin. “Their last concern is elections and I would expect a major boycott in most of this province’s cities.”
It has been observed that a number of political figures in the area are trying to sell themselves as the saviours of Salahaddin’s displaced, claiming responsibility for either driving the extremists out, or for reconstruction. Some say that they are responsible for the fact that displaced locals are being allowed to return to their homes at all, explaining that they have been in contact with senior figures in Baghdad to facilitate this process.
Still, Saleh doesn’t think it will do much good. “The parties are kidding themselves if they think that an ordinary person returning to their homes will see this as a special favour, or an achievement,” he argues.
The other issue of concern is a morass of changing loyalties, party defections, and complex new alliances in Salahaddin.
Some of the political parties competing in elections here are hoping for support from locals by emphasizing their provincial and tribal ties. Others believe that by throwing their lot in with the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, who remains popular for his perceived part in pushing the Islamic State, or IS, group out of Iraq.
There is also a fair amount of cross-sectarian action happening in electioneering tie-ups. For example, the potentially-popular coalition led by the province’s governor, Ahmad Abdullah al-Jibouri, has entered into an alliance with Shiite Muslim parties to the south and Kurdish and Turkmen parties to the north.
There is also a lot of talk about fairness and non-sectarian government. Nationalism and pride in Iraq is one of the main selling points in campaigning so far, as is secularism.
“The map of alliances in the province is not clear as yet because of changes in attitudes, defections and divisions,” Adnan al-Faraji, a member of Salahaddin’s provincial council, told NIQASH. “But there is a distinctive feature in this electoral cycle that reflects the national mood, a preference for unity and constitutional, civil society. This is due directly to the failure of sectarian politics. That is why there are so many new attitudes,” he explains.