The initial results of Iraq’s recent provincial elections were announced by the country’s Independent High Electoral Commission or IHEC, the body responsible for conducting and overseeing the elections, on May 4.
And while the actual voting involved a fairly lacklustre polling day it seems the results may make for more interesting politics as major parties must seek coalition partners for local government.
The results have yet to be finalized as various appeals have yet to be heard. But it seems clear that there will some changes ahead in provincial government. Provincial authorities are influential in their own areas, having some control over security, economic development – and thereby, jobs – and how federal funds are used.
The election results indicate a shift in the balance of power in Iraqi politics, local political analyst, Ihsan al-Shammari, a lecturer at Baghdad University, told NIQASH. Al-Shammari thought that the provincial elections could also be seen as an indicator of how the country will vote in the next federal elections, due in 2014. “In these elections, the battles to build coalitions will be fiercer than the electoral campaigns," he said.
While the coalition led by Iraq’s current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki still retained its lead in provincial government in seven of the 12 states where elections were held, it also lost a lot: about a third of the seats it had had after the 2009 provincial elections. All up, al-Maliki’s State of Law bloc got 97 seats in provincial government but it didn’t achieve an absolute majority in any one province. A lot of those losses came from the Prime Minister’s own Dawa party. And the losses came despite al-Maliki’s alliances with various influential Shiite Muslim parties such as the Badr organization.
Meanwhile other Shiite Muslim dominated parties did particularly well. The Prime Minister’s former allies, the Sadrist movement, won 58 seats and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, currently led by young cleric Ammar al-Hakim, won 61. Between them the two groups have 118 seats around the country. Some analysts suggest that the two may form a closer alliance, something which would doubtless concern al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition, with it’s around 20 fewer seats.
Should the two Shiite Muslim-dominated parties choose to get together they would effectively prevent al-Maliki’s bloc from dominating Iraq’s southern provincial councils, as it has done in the past. Such an alliance could also take control of provincial authorities in Baghdad.
“In previous elections we only won 41 seats in all Iraq’s provinces but today, we can form the alliances we want,” Diaa al-Asadi said at a press conference after the election results were announced. Al-Asadi heads the Ahrar bloc in Iraq’s Parliament, the political wing of the Sadrist movement, a multi-million-member group that follows crusading Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr; he says his party counts itself as one of the most successful in these elections because of the gain in seats.
“We are now negotiating with all the lists and there is debate and dialogue going on. We haven’t yet made our final decisions as to whom we might enter into coalitions with,” said al-Asadi in his press conference.
Still, one cannot forget the skill with which the State of Law bloc has managed to build coalitions over recent years. And it may still be difficult for the Sadrists or Islamic Supreme Council to form alliances in various provinces. For example, the Iraqi Communist Party did comparatively well, winning most of the 10 seats that its bloc gained around the country.
“Even though we didn’t spend anything near what other parties did, we got good results with our campaigning,” Jassim al-Hilfi, a member of the central committee of the Iraqi Communist Party, told NIQASH. And it’s not just a change in law about smaller parties that’s helped parties like his do better. “There’s a change in the Iraqi people’s mood,” he says. “And that is due to poor state services and other conflicts.”