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Thread: Iraq's democracy is messy but genuine

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    Iraq's democracy is messy but genuine

    Iraq's democracy is messy but genuine, Monday 22 March 2010 13.30 GMT

    Post-election coalition politics in Iraq may be complicated, but the country's democratic process has exceeded expectations

    As post-election events unfold in Iraq, the usual prejudicial arguments will also make their way back into the wider debate on Iraq's democratic process: it is a failure, sectarianism dominates and Iraq will self-destruct (see Fawaz Gerges's article on Cif, Iraq's delayed democracy ). But this is the template argument that has plagued Iraq as much as violence and terror attacks have, and it is often disconnected from the reality on the ground.

    Iraq has left the darker times that followed 2003. Foreign jihadists, the principal perpetrators of the atrocities of those days have more or less been eliminated in the country, owing greatly to the exceptional efforts of the United States and the United Kingdom special forces (see Mark Urban's Task Force Black for a riveting insight).

    Nor should we expect the Sunnis to revert back to insurgency mode. The contest is now being fought at the ballot poll and not on the battlefield and, looking at the strong showing of Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National Movement (INM) who will either win or come second by a marginal number of seats it seems to be paying dividends too; for the Sunnis now have some form of a viable representative and have proven themselves to be able to coalesce around a coalition or candidate.

    Allawi's strong showing, falling either just behind or just ahead of Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law (SoL) coalition means that the eventual winner will have only a marginal lead. Such is the level of competition between the two that in the end it might make little difference who wins; what therefore really matters is who can garner a coalition that puts them into power.

    Democratically, it reads as a success. Politically, however, it could present problems as the coalition-building process picks up speed. The constitution provides that the largest bloc should form a government, though it is not clear whether the bloc referred to in the constitution has to be a pre-election or post-election bloc, an ambiguity that might be a sticking point over the next few weeks.

    Assuming it is the latter, the simple scenario would involve some form of a Maliki-led coalition that includes the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) and Sadrist dominated Iraqi National Alliance (INA), along with the Kurds, which, in essence, marginalises the INM. Chances of a Maliki and Allawi partnership are almost impossible; both seek the premiership, have personal differences, and will not be content with playing second-fiddle to the other.

    But like most things in Iraqi politics, nothing is simple. Sidelining as significant a coalition like the INM would prove controversial and in essence seem like a marginalisation of the Sunni community. What, therefore, comes into question is whether the Kurds and the INA prefer a Maliki government or an Allawi one.

    The INA currently spells the Sadrists who, with at least 40 seats to their name should, like the Kurds, emerge as kingmakers. The Sadrists are known to dislike Maliki, will be against another Maliki premiership and have submitted their own choice for the position. Having said this, there is nothing to suggest that they would not support an SoL coalition minus Maliki as its head which, in the event it turns into a significant issue, could provoke internal tensions within SoL and its leading party, the Islamic Dawa Party.

    The Sadrists and Allawi, however, also have a distasteful and violent past. As a result, it may all come down to concessions over power and what Maliki and Allawi can offer the Sadrists and, indeed, the Kurds. The Kurds, along with the Sadrists and ISCI, could very well amalgamate and seek to oust Maliki from office (and the ISCI, along with the INA, have in the past come close to forming an alliance with Allawi).

    Disintegration within the INM could make things easier for Allawi, since his bloc contains characters unsavoury for the Kurds and Shias, but this could also weaken him since he may be left with little to bargain with. Disintegration of the INM (and there are reports of internal problems) means that you could also have an acceptable Maliki-led coalition that does not include Allawi but other various, representative elements from his coalition.

    Current projections suggest that both Maliki and Allawi, with around 91 or 92 seats, could form a government with the support of just one other major bloc (like the Kurds, who have more than 40 seats), along with the support of the other smaller groups and any splinter groups from the INA. In any case, until it becomes clearer how many seats individual elements within the various blocs have gained, it will prove difficult to properly predict the forthcoming government.

    Granted the whole thing is messy and at times complicated. And it is, for Iraqis, disappointingly the case that there is no one party either Shia or Sunni, secular or sectarian that has a significant cross-sectarian appeal. However, let us not ask too much from Iraqis just yet. What is important is that there is progress in Iraqi democracy and politics. You now have both splits in the Shia, Kurdish and Sunni votes, as well as an open-list system that has punished underperforming officials, like those from the interior and defence ministries.

    Combined together, they set Iraq's democratic process miles ahead of its neighbours and exceed the honest expectations of the international community. Iraq does not have the perfect democracy, but it has a functioning and genuine democracy.

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    Join Date
    Feb 2010
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    Thanks for the post.

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