Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:46 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 17:46 | SYDNEY

Iraq: After elections, uncertainty


Mark O'Neill

6 February 2009 13:23

More news is emerging about the results of the 31 January provincial elections conducted in Iraq. A recent report from the International Crisis Group noted that:

In the face of undeniable enthusiasm surrounding the elections (expressed in the large number of candidates and active campaigning), it would be both unfair to underestimate and wrong to overestimate their importance. 

It would also be wrong to infer a great deal from the lack of major violent incidents. The voter turnout of only 51% hints at the perceived importance of provincial elections among people whose only ‘muscle memory’ of strong government is that of the Saddam’s centralisation of power at the national level – the benefits of fighting for the provincial level of power are perhaps still to be established. 

A significant factor in the lack of violence is also the fact that the ‘surge’ broke the back of the Sunni insurgency in many areas. And the Iraqi Army has developed (in size and capability) incredibly over the last two years. The slip towards secularism in politics described my colleague Anthony may have also deterred the use of violence by radical Islamist parties at this stage. 

These factors, combined with the intensive security operations conducted for the election, clearly suggest that any attempt to foment widespread violence was unlikely to succeed. The uncertainty lies in what happens next.

The ‘success’ of the elections in terms of political participation by candidates might itself be problematic. Iraq has had limited experience in transitioning to the political form dictated by the electorate in ‘free and fair’ elections.  Consider this: over 14,400 candidates stood for 440 seats in provincial government across Iraq’s 14 provinces. Simple math suggests this makes for over 13,960 ‘losers’. 

There is an apocryphal saying in the Philippines about election results: there are no winners and losers, just winners and those who were cheated (hat tip to my colleague Malcolm for that one). How the failed candidates in the Iraqi provincial elections react could determine whether the process is ultimately viewed as a success.  

This piece from the Washington Post regarding the preliminary results in the Sunni-dominated al Anbar Province highlights the potentially fractious nature of the election aftermath.