In previous elections in Iraq, the party shares of electoral lists running as coalitions have been important especially at the parliamentary level. In 2005, the internal structure of the all-Shiite United Iraqi Alliance was important and influenced questions like federalism and the relationship with Iran, whereas in the parliamentary elections of 2010, all three main coalitions – Iraqiyya, State of Law and the Iraqi National Alliance – featured internal dynamics that would become deeply significant after the elections.
At the provincial level, such intra-list dynamics have been less prominent until now, primarily because there was in 2005 and 2009 a tendency of political parties to contest the local elections as independent entities, or with only minimal coalitions involving a few other parties with which there were already existing ties – SCIRI’s “Islamic Basra” list in 2005 being an example of this. But in this year’s elections, coalitions were indeed significant, above all with respect to the State of Law list headed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The reason is that shortly before the elections, Maliki radically expanded his list beyond what had been its core in the previous parliamentary election, i.e. the two main Daawa branches and the Independents movement of Hussein al-Shahristani, the deputy premier. Beyond adding the Jaafari breakaway faction of the Daawa (which had run with INA in parliamentary elections in 2010) Maliki’s new coalition lists now also include entities that historically have been more distant from the Daawa, especially the Badr group that recently split from ISCI after having served as its military wing in the past, as well as the Fadila party, another Islamist parties which emerged from the Sadrist movement after 2003.
Today the question is how this enlarged coalitions looks after Iraqi voters have had their say by picking their favourites from the coalition lists by way of the personal vote option.
One recurrent problem in these analyses is the scarcity of sources that comprehensively document sub-entity affiliations. As of today, only one governorate with a full list of the sub-entities of all State of Law candidates is known (Basra). However, alternate sources help provide a fuller picture. In particular, it seems important that most of the factions that joined State of Law more recently have some sources related to their candidates within the new coalitions. This includes Badr (whose newspaper featured extensive interviews with candidates, in addition to a Facebook page) as well as the Jaafari branch of the Daawa movement that was with INA in 2009 (the Beladi TV station has given extensive coverage to individual candidates). Additionally, the Shahristani branch has published a YouTube video of all its candidates, whereas for the Fadila party it is possible to identify most of the candidates by doing advanced searches on the party’s website of party-related news items.
The problem that remains is to account for the relationship between the Maliki branch of the Daawa, the Tanzim al-Iraq branch as well as truly independent candidates. For this purpose, only incomplete sources exist, and in many places it is impossible to typologise further. However, to some extent, the analytical purpose has been achieved when the other sub-entities have been largely identified. Historically, the Tanzim al-Iraq branch has been quite loyal to Maliki, running with him in local elections in January 2009 and staying with him even in August 2009 when parts of it broke off to join INA as the Tanzim al-Dakhil branch. For their part, truly independent candidates within the State of Law alliance will often be there as a result of personal ties to Maliki. Accordingly, while the following picture may be incomplete (and relies to a large extent on a general heading of candidates that are Daawa, Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq), or independents without further specification being possible), it does seem to summarise the main zones of insecurity for Maliki as they relate to his own coalitions in the Iraqi provinces.
In recent days, there have been some rumours that Maliki had supposedly lost out to Badr, Fadila and Jaafari in the internal struggle over coalition seats resulting from the electorate’s use of the personal vote. There is zero empirical evidence to suggest that such a trend does indeed exist. Even if we allow for the possibility that a small number of Badr or Fadila winners may have been missed due to the methodological issues mentioned, the material above confirms the picture of the Daawa branches as the pre-eminent force within the State of Law coalition, probably representing more than half of the newly elected State of Law councilors. Following Maliki, Badr and Fadila are the most consistent vote getters, with some notable results for prominent candidates, and Fadila picking up no less than 4 seats in Dhi Qar, a traditional party bastion.
To the extent that internal problems in circles close to Maliki come into play, it seems more relevant to focus on several political figures with some ties to Maliki and/or the Daawa movement who quite successfully ran independently in ways that could be seen as a challenge to the State of Law alliance. This includes Ali al-Dabbagh (508), Shirwan al-Waeli (516) and Muhammad al-Nasiri (404) which won seats in Dhi Qar and Muthanna. Unlike the situation with respect to the Sadrists – where the existence of 3 additional lists beyond the mainline Ahrar list was officially recognized – it is not known to have been a deliberate Maliki strategy to cultivate these lists as supplements to the State of Law alliance.
Even more important than the challengers to Maliki within State of Law are probably the Shiite lists that ran separately everywhere except in the Shiite-minority areas in northern Iraq – the Sadrists and ISCI. Since the Sadrists share seats with Maliki as part of lists 472 and 501, they have been added for purposes of comparison in the table above. With more than 50 seats in total, they form a substantial challenge to Maliki at the local level, as does the revitalized ISCI, which is still more of a coalition than the Sadrists, but which has almost 60 seats in the new councils.
The process of forming provincial councils is already well under way. In areas like Basra, it looks like the Sadrists and ISCI are toying with the idea of trying to challenge Maliki. And the loyalties of the candidates are truly in flux as well. In Basra there are reports of a defection from the Maliki bloc, whereas the winning Iraqiyya candidate thanked his voters by joining Maliki even before the results haad been formally announced.
Beyond party preferences, something in this material that anyone who cares for Iraqi democracy can be pleased about is the fact that the Iraqi electorate keeps using the personal vote option actively. Popular candidates continue to get promoted from places far down on the list, sometimes making the climb to the top from initial positions lower than 50. Party leaderships may experience this kind of voter behavior as an affront, but it is an aspect of the Iraqi political system that clearly brings greater dynamism and unpredictability to the contest, hopefully reminding Iraqi politicians that they cannot afford to ignore their voters as the next major electoral event – elections for the next parliament in 2014 – get closer.