For weeks, we have been waiting for the formal release of the parliamentary candidate lists by the Iraqi elections commission (IHEC), at which point campaigning for the 7 March elections is expected to start in an official way. Pending the formal certification by the IHEC, Iraqi political parties have mostly refrained from discussing the details of their candidate lists in the various provinces. There is however one exception: The Shiite-led Iraqi National Alliance (often abbreviated as the Watani alliance), which last week began circulating its candidate lists in full.
How can the Watani list be so confident and go ahead with the publication of its candidate lists even before the IHEC has formally approved them? The explanation is very simple, and is contained in the Watani lists themselves: Its candidate number twenty-four in Baghdad is named Ali Faysal al-Lami and belongs to the Iraqi National Congress headed by Ahmed Chalabi. Sounds familiar? Yes, that’s right, Lami is the director of the accountability and justice board that recently moved to bar several hundred candidates from taking part in the elections. No resistance was offered, and today no one in Iraq seems to be making a big point of the fact that he himself is a candidate in the elections! Little wonder, then, that the Watani leaders seem confident about proceeding with the release of their list: It is they who effectively control the vetting process for the entire elections process. They enjoy full support in this from Iran; meanwhile their leaders are being feted in Washington, where Adil Abd al-Mahdi has just been visiting.
As for the Watani lists themselves – summarised in a rough table below, where the party distribution of candidates is tabulated for the upper part of each governorate list corresponding to the number of available seats in each governorate – a number of interesting trends stand out.
- ISCI, including its close partners Badr and “Jihad and Reconstruction” (a new collective name for what was formerly “Hizbollah in Iraq”, Sayyid al-Shuhada and various other southern entities with particularly close ties to Iran, now headed by Hasan al-Sari) is generally asserting its pre-eminence within the coalition, at the expense of the Sadrists. Of course, with the open-list system, voters may reverse this, but as a general tendency ISCI now has more top candidates than the Sadrists everywhere except Diyala and Kirkuk (ISCI is not particularly popular in the latter place given its propensity for listening to Kurdish demands, so it may be a strategic decision to stay in the background there). Interestingly, in at least some governorates, the female quota system (which in practice serves to override both party listings and the open-list system by promoting non-winning female candidates) may possibly serve to dilute ISCI dominance, since the female candidates seem more evenly distributed between the parties in certain governorates.
- The Watani list confirms its image as an essentially Shiite Islamist list, where secular and Sunni participation comes across as ornamental rather than substantial in character. This is seen at perhaps its clearest in Anbar, where except for the top three candidates (including Hamid al-Hayis), the list has been filled up with Shiite Islamists from other parts of the country who cannot possibly hope to win voters there (altogether ISCI won a couple of hundred votes in Anbar in 2005).
- Also in Nineveh, no attempt is being made to reach out to the dominant Sunni Arab majority. Instead the list is packed with Turkmen candidates in an apparent hope at maximising that segment of the vote. In Diyala, the only prominent candidate that might perhaps appeal beyond traditional Shiite Islamist audiences would be Najib al-Salihi, an ex-general of the Iraqi army.
- Much like Anbar, the Kurdish governorates appear to function as parking lots for Shiite politicians that are needed in the next parliament but who apparently do not want to compete (they themselves say they are simply “making room for others”). And just like in 2005, they will win seats not on the basis of popular votes but as part of the so-called compensation seats which under the Iraqi variant of proportional representation are simply awarded to party leaders for distribution to their own preferred candidates. On this basis, people like Rida Jawad Taqi and Hamid Muala “won” seats in 2005 on the basis of the 100-200 votes they received in Anbar and Sulaymaniyya respectively; in 2010 similar seats will go to such prominent ISCI leaders as Jalal al-Din al-Saghir (Dahuk) and Humam Hamudi (Sulaymaniyya), and potentially also to several less known Badr “candidates”. These non-elected seats should be more correctly referred to as peerages – Lord al-Saghir of Dahuk, and so on.
- The candidature of Fawzi Akram, a prominent Sadrist, in Arbil, is however potentially controversial. In a number one position, and with the presence of Turkmen minorities in the governorate, he may well be placed there with the intention of actually capturing votes (unlike, say, Saghir in Dahuk). Akram has been a lot more vocally anti-Kurdish on Kirkuk than the ISCI leadership (who are generally considered pro-Kurdish on the issue), highlighting the centralism/federalism struggle within the Watani alliance and potential complications for the Kurdish–Shiite alliance that nevertheless once more seems to be in the making.
- Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s Islah front is clearly reduced to a third position, with Fadila fourth, but Jaafari himself is prominently placed as the number one candidate in Baghdad (something that smells of prime ministerial ambitions), followed by Bayan Jabr of Badr/ISCI, Ahmed Chalabi of INC, and Maha al-Duri, a female Sadrist. Other top candidates across Iraq include Adil Abd al-Mahdi (ISCI/Dhi Qar, followed by the Sadrist Baha al-Aaraji and ex-governor Aziz Alwan), Hadi al-Amiri (ISCI/Badr/Diyala), Nassar al-Rubayie (Najaf/Sadrist; he is followed there by ex-deputy governor Abd al-Hussein Abtan of ISCI/Badr).
- Beyond the four big parties, a more fragmented landscape emerges. INC generally has one candidate in a potentially winning position in most governorates, as has the breakaway movement from Hizb al-Daawa (Tanzim al-Iraq) led by Abd al-Karim al-Anizi which now styles itself Hizb al-Daawa (Tanzim al-Dakhil) or “the domestic faction”. The Tadamun bloc and other Islamist independent parties are not particularly well represented anywhere except Baghdad, and then there are scattered secularists, monarchists, ethnic parties (mostly Turkmens in the north and Fayli Kurds in Baghdad) as well as various local lists (including most prominently the “Justice and Unity” party led by the Shaykhi sect of Basra).
|Seats||ISCI & Badr||Sadr||Islah||INC||Solidarity
& other independ.
|Wasit||11||No information available at entity level|
*** Rough tabulation showing approximate distribution of top candidates corresponding to the number of seats available in each governorate. The table is apparently best viewed with Firefox; other browsers may intefere with the columns.
As for the candidate lists for the rest of the parties that are not as lucky as the Watani coalition when it comes to controlling the system, it seems we will have to wait a few more days. The IHEC declared on Saturday that Iraqi newspapers would publish the lists of banned candidates on Sunday, which in turn would probably have paved the way for a release of the candidate lists. But who is the head of the “independent” IHEC to make such decisions? It emerged that Ali al-Lami wanted to de-Baathify just a little bit more, so Haydari was apparently ordered to hit the “stop press” button while another batch of last-minute exclusions are under consideration by the IHEC. The lists of those excluded are now expected for Monday instead.