Iraq’s ethnic minorities make their mark on national assembly elections

The results of the recent Iraqi elections to select a permanent national assembly showed far higher participation from the country’s various ethnic communities than previous polls.

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By  Massoud A. Derhally Published  January 29, 2006

The results of the recent Iraqi elections to select a permanent national assembly showed far higher participation from the country’s various ethnic communities than previous polls. Unlike a year ago — when the Sunni population boycotted the election process and subsequently shunned the constitution that they felt only served the interests of Kurds and Shiites – this election galvanised Iraqis from all backgrounds to take part. Ethnic groups that had previously shunned the ballot realised that abstentions would inevitably have a bearing on the decisions the assembly takes in the future, and so voter turnout was greater, and far more representative, of the breadth of the population. Though marred by accusations of fraud, the final results nonetheless showed that the United Iraqi Alliance Shiite coalition secured 128 seats of 275 seats of the Iraqi National Assembly. While certainly not an overwhelming majority for the Shiites, it ostensibly means the coalition will now have to align itself with other political groups in order to muster the required support to pick a president for the country. The Kurdistan Coalition managed to win 53 seats, the Iraqi Accordance Front (Sunni) 44, the Iraqi National List (of former prime minister Iyad Allawi, who is secular) 25, the National Dialogue Front (Sunni) 11, the Kurdistan Islamic Union 5, the National Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc (Sunni) 3, Risaliyun (Shiite and of the Sadr movement) 2, Al-Rafidayn (Mesopotamia) Party (Christian) 1, Iraqi Turkoman Front 1, the Iraqi Nation List (Mithal Al-Alusi that is Sunni) 1 and the Yazidi movement 1. The results are indicative of the polarisation of the Iraqi people, since the demise of Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. “The Iraqi people, with a turnout of 70%, have shown their sectarian inclinations at this stage of the political transition, where confessional and ethnic agendas far outweigh any kind of national or political programme,” said Joost Hiltermann, of the think tank International Crisis Group, adding: “That is a very dangerous situation.” Ibrahim Jaafari, the current prime minister who is affiliated with the Dawa party, appears to be in trouble as his government performed poorly. However, Hiltermann suggested that he could yet retain his position. “The choice of the prime minister may depend less on previous performance, as on trade-offs and compromises made by the main factions,” Hiltermann said. “He may just emerge as a candidate that everyone can live with.” Moqtada Al Sadr, the firebrand cleric who clashed with the Americans, and the government of former prime minister Iyad Allawi, appears to have emerged as the biggest winner. He is very strong politically, has played his cards well, and according to Hiltermann should be an important power broker within the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). If the UIA survives as an alliance in the coming months as Iraqis try and iron out the shape of their government, there could emerge one of two scenarios. There could be a return to the Shiite Kurdish alliance that existed last year, from which Sunnis felt alienated. However, the Americans are also pushing very strongly for a government of national unity that would incorporate the Iraqi Consensus Front and some of Allawi’s party. “It really depends on how much political capital the Americans are willing to spend, because some on the Shiite list would not want a government of national unity even if they professed to want it,” said Hiltermann. Once a government is formed – and depending on what that government is – there will be in all likelihood a revisiting of the negotiations of the constitution. “The constitution, as it was ratified in the referendum, allows for an immediate review during a four-month period,” said Hiltermann. “The Sunni Arabs have specifically participated in the elections in order to change the constitution in a fundamental way, and the nature of these changes really depends on the kind of alliances that can be made in the new parliament.”

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