Iraqi Kurdistan: Provincial Elections Result
The Dawa Party of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was the overwhelming winner of Iraq’s provincial elections, the first official results show. But while candidates in the slate backed by Dawa garnered the most votes of any party in nine of Iraq’s provinces, the party fell short of being able to operate without coalition-building. The initial results reflect a vast majority, but not all, of the votes.
Still, the results lifted Mr. Maliki’s party from a minor player among Shiite parties to one that appeared on the road to being the most powerful.
The election outcome conveyed a dual message: many Iraqis want a strong central government, rather than one where regions hold more power than the center, but they do not want all the power in the hands of one party.
“We don’t seek to rule alone or marginalize anyone,” said Hassan Sinead, a member of Parliament who is in the Dawa Party and an ally of Mr. Maliki. “On the contrary, we are open to the other parties, whether they won or lost the election, because we don’t believe in the dictatorship of the regions or any other kind, because we are not dictators.”
Some politicians have voiced concerns in recent months that too much power was being concentrated in Mr. Maliki’s hands, and the election results suggested that Iraqis were not ready to rally around a single leader. They responded far more enthusiastically to candidates who espoused a united Iraq that is Muslim, but not overtly sectarian.
“Maliki’s message was nationalist and broad,” said Jaber Habeeb, a professor of political science at Baghdad University who is also an independent Shiite member of Parliament. “In his speeches, he concentrated on rebuilding and securing the state more than using religious messages.”
Mr. Maliki’s party won a clear plurality in the large provinces of Baghdad and Basra, both places where the prime minister waged military campaigns last year to halt the activities of mostly Shiite militias.
Tensions between Arabs and Kurds, which have threatened to erupt into violence in northern Iraq, were largely unresolved by the election. In Nineveh, the Kurds have had an overwhelming majority on the provincial council although they are a minority in the province, because most Arabs sat out the last election. This time, a new Arab nationalist party, Al Hadba, took 48.4 percent, by far the largest share of the votes. The outcome could right the imbalance in the provincial government, but it remains to be seen whether the current provincial council members will step down and allow the new council to be seated.
In neighboring Kirkuk Province, where a vote was not held, the tensions run even higher and the situation is even more uncertain. Decades of gerrymandering, ethnic cleansing and forced expulsions of Kurds under Saddam Hussein — and the intimidation of Arabs since 2003 — have made it impossible for Kirkuk’s Kurdish, Arabic, Turkmen and Christian populations to agree on who is eligible to vote. Kirkuk and the three Kurdish provinces that make up the Kurdistan region were the only four of Iraq’s 18 provinces that did not hold elections.
Much like Mr. Maliki’s Dawa Party, other parties that won seats in the Shiite south were Islamist but also nationalist. They include the parties backed by the anti-American Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, which did surprisingly well, given that his movement decided to support them only two weeks before the elections.
The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a Shiite Islamist party led by the cleric Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, lost ground throughout the country. The party relied heavily on religious imagery and symbols during the campaign, but it lost even Mr. Hakim’s home base of Najaf and received barely 5 percent of the votes in Baghdad. In the 2005 elections, it captured nearly 55 percent of the votes in Baghdad and dominated provincial politics.
Along with the Kurdish parties, the Supreme Council has been the strongest proponent of a weak central government and strong provinces or regions. It advocated the creation of a southern region that would resemble the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north. Until these elections, the Supreme Council was dominant in most southern provinces.
More than 14,000 candidates from 400 political parties and lists took part in the elections last Saturday [31 January 2009].
Over all, the results remained divided along sectarian lines, with Shiite-majority provinces choosing Shiite parties and Sunni-majority provinces choosing Sunni parties.
In Baghdad, where Mr. Maliki ran a strongly nationalist campaign, he appeared to have had some success in winning votes from Sunnis, but in the Sunni-majority provinces to the north, his party’s slate barely made a showing.
Even in those provinces where he had strong support, the political picture was fractured. In Basra, in the south, Dawa candidates won their second highest proportion of votes, 37 percent, but they will still have to make deals to form coalitions with other parties to choose the provincial leadership. That is particularly true in provinces like Muthanna, where Dawa also came in first, but with only 11 percent of the vote. Under the provincial powers law, governors and deputy governors, as well as the provincial council chairmen and deputy chairmen, are chosen by a simple majority of the provincial councils.
In Babil Province, south of Baghdad, where Dawa won 12.5 percent, the most of any party, the party’s leaders were disappointed. “Having 12 percent means we are going to have four seats on the council,” said Nemma al-Bakri, a provincial Dawa leader. “It is a shock. We had expected to have 15 seats. This distribution will result in many disputes about who is going to be the next governor.”
Except in areas where Sunnis were voting for the first time, the large, prominent parties with nationally known leaders won the most seats, showing the power of incumbency and the difficulties facing the newer secular parties. The secular parties fared best in the four Sunni-majority provinces.
In the Shiite south, religious parties dominated in every province, with the surprising exception of Karbala, Mr. Maliki’s home province. There, a secular civic leader narrowly edged out the Dawa candidate. In the four predominantly Sunni provinces north and west of Baghdad, there was a greater range in the political views of the successful candidates, with a mix of tribal, secular and Sunni Islamist parties dividing the votes.
As election officials were preparing to announce the results, the police in Diyala Province said Thursday [05 February 2009] that a suicide bomber had blown himself up in a restaurant, killing 15 people in the town of Khanaqin, which has seen tension between Kurdish and Arab security forces.
Tensions simmered as well in Anbar Province, in the west, where several powerful tribal parties competed for provincial council seats with two established Sunni parties, one Islamist, Tawafiq, and another that has a more secular, Baathist tilt.
The electoral commission was still investigating accusations of voting fraud. Tamouz, a nongovernment organization monitoring the elections under contract with the United Nations, reported problems including several instances of ballot stuffing in Falluja by the Iraqi Islamic Party, the largest Sunni party in the Tawafiq coalition.
Saadoun Obeid al-Jumaili, a lawyer who is on Falluja’s municipal council, said the biggest problem was that many election workers at several polling stations were members of the Islamic Party.
Two officials from the Islamic Party in Falluja denied that and the accusations of ballot stuffing.
But themonitors insisted that they had observed irregularities. “The electoral commission was biased in favor of the Islamic Party in Anbar,” said Sana’a Hamed, the assistant director of the Tamouz election monitoring team.