Uncertain Outcomes in Iraq Election

Leading Parties Remain Deadlocked and Scramble for Alliances

The election results are in, and the front-runners are clear, but the winner is still anything but certain, writes Ryan Scheeler.

Electoral workers sit amid piles of ballot boxes at a counting center in Baghdad last month. (AP/Karim Kadim)
Electoral workers sit amid piles of ballot boxes at a counting center in Baghdad last month. (AP/Karim Kadim)

The Iraq election votes have been fully counted, but the question of who will emerge as the winner of the 2010 Iraq parliamentary elections still remains surprisingly unanswered. The front-runners are clear—the secular Iraqiya coalition is currently ahead in the number of seats won in parliament, with the mainly Shiite State of Law bloc closely behind—but anything is possible in the struggle between these two parties.

State of Law’s incumbent Nouri al-Maliki and Iraqiya’s Ayad Allawi are the front-runners for the prime minister position. But the election’s system of proportional representation puts their leadership in question. Parties gain seats based on the number of votes they receive in each of Iraq’s provinces, which serve as single constituencies with a fixed number of seats. Seats in each province are divided up based on how many votes each party received in that province. The party that wins a majority of seats gets to appoint key positions in the government, including the prime minister. But neither party won the 163-seat parliamentary majority needed to gain control—Iraqiya won 91 seats and State of Law won 89.

This leaves them each scrambling to find other political blocs to merge with in order to gain the majority. And a successful union with other coalitions still does not guarantee that Maliki or Allawi will become prime minister.

State of Law and Iraqiya are both stressing the importance of installing their respective leaders as prime minister, but this demand may hinder alliances. State of Law, for example, has been trying to merge with the Iraqi National Alliance, a coalition headed by cleric Ammar al-Hakimi. Yet the Sadrist movement within the Iraqi National Alliance has poor relations with Maliki and has publicly announced its strong objections to him remaining in power. Any compromise could lead the front-runner parties to pass over Maliki and Allawi in favor of a different mutually agreed upon candidate for the prime minister position.

This issue was a key obstacle in the 2005 elections—it took six months for the multiple parties to jockey for power and establish positions. And in fact, this similar situation is what led to Maliki’s rise to power four and a half years ago in the 2005 national elections. Nouri al-Maliki seemed like an unlikely candidate back then to assume control of Iraq. Ibrahim al-Jaafari had been the prime minister of Iraq’s Transitional National Assembly, which was formed in January 2005, and was set to retain his position during the December elections. But political infighting caused the relatively unknown Nouri al-Maliki to replace Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister for the Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, even though his faction garnered only 12 seats—the least of any of the parties in the winning coalition.

The 2005 election unexpectedly brought Nouri al-Maliki to power, and there is nothing to say that this will not happen again. Maliki and Allawi are certainly the widely acknowledged political powerhouses in this election, but their duel for prime minister leaves room for a relatively unknown candidate to fill the void left in their wake.

Whatever the case, an overall victory for either party will certainly have broader implications for the region. If the State of Law bloc and the Shias dominate the new government, we can expect much more of the status quo, with the potential of a more overt Iranian influence. The level of Iranian influence will depend on the amount of effort the country put into forming the winning coalition, and how indebted State of Law and other winning blocs feel to toe country.

If the Iraqiya bloc assumes control, it would mean an all out Shia victory was averted and create a more secular government, free of strong Iranian influence. Iraq’s Sunni population and neighbors would certainly prefer this result since it would allow them to dictate the path of resolution on divisive issues such as the Northern disputed territories. But if Iraqiya is again shut out of the government, Sunni supporters will feel at odds once again since they legitimately won the election, and this may not be resolved peacefully.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before we begin to more thoroughly contemplate the election’s broad implications in the region, the question of who will compose that winning group still needs to be answered. As of now, anything is still possible.

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