The Pro-Kurdish Minority Vote
Posted by Reidar Visser on Thursday, 25 March 2010 11:48
The big question concerning the 8 minority seats in the next Iraqi parliament is just how pro-Kurdish their occupants will be. Admittedly, of course, the 8 minority seats, representing around 60,000 votes and just about 2.5% of all the deputies in the next parliament, are somewhat marginal to the overall result. Nonetheless, with Iraq on its way to an extremely complicated government-formation process, every little bloc will be of significance – and with the small numbers involved it seems safe to assume that the 96% count can provide a reliable prognosis of what the minority-seat distribution will look like.
The answer to the question of Kurdish influence on the minority representatives seems to be 3 very pro-Kurdish, 3 quite pro-Kurdish, one anti-Kurdish and one uncommitted. Three of the seats are tied to a particular governorate – a Sabaean seat for Baghdad and seats for the Shabak and Yazidis in Nineveh. The Sabaean seat will go to Khalid Amin Rumi, who reportedly enjoys the support of the traditional religious establishment of the Sabaeans. In Nineveh, however, the Kurdish question comes into play. Kurdish nationalists prefer to define both the Yazidis and Shabak as “Kurds” but significant forces within those communities, in turn, would rather like to emphasise separate (and in some cases explicitly non-Kurdish) identities.
As a result of this situation, the Kurdish leadership has previously argued for a multiplication of seats for these minorities in the hope that some of them will be filled by pro-Kurdish representatives (which are heavily financed by the KRG), as seen in the attempt to ensure a greater minority quota in the provincial election law in the autumn of 2008. Conversely, anti-Kurdish forces in Iraqi politics have sought to limit the seats to one per minority (to avoid Kurdish financing of what is seen as “artificial” placemen that speak in the name of the community in question but in reality owe their position to the KRG), and were successful in this in the final iteration of the provincial elections law as well as in elections law adopted last autumn. However, even though the result is very close, it now seems the Kurds have been able to replace the anti-Kurdish Hunayn al-Qaddo (around 10,000 votes) with a pro-KRG candidate (around 11,000 votes). Among the Yazidis, however, the seat will go to a party that has a history of challenging the Kurdish claim for national leadership over the Yazidis.
The remaining five seats are for Iraq’s Christian communities. Originally, they were set aside for the five governorates with largest Christian populations (Baghdad, Nineveh, Tamim, Arbil, Dahuk) but during the final vote on the election law Christian leaders already represented in the existing parliament secured a last-minute addition stipulating a single constituency for all of Iraq. This had the effect of maximising the ethno-sectarian aspect of the vote, since Christians everywhere will vote for representatives that may well live outside their home governorate, with the sectarian identity as their only tie. Also, those Christians who do well at the aggregate communitarian level will easily prevail over candidates with more local ties whose support base is limited to a particular governorate.
***The Christian vote on 7 March, 96% count
The results demonstrate these effects very clearly. With a total participation of around 60,000, there will be an electoral divider of around 12,000 per seat. Looking at the results, only two big lists are anywhere near securing seats under this system: The Rafidayn list (389) headed by Yunadim Kanna, and the Chaldean Syriac Assyrian list led by Sarkis Aghajan (390), probably with 3 seats to the former and 2 seats to the latter, and with the other five lists unrepresented. It is particularly noteworthy that the two winning lists perform poorly south of Baghdad, where other lists do well but have no chance of winning seats due to the single-constituency arrangement in which their local majorities disappear in the final count. Another local challenger in Nineveh (John Joseph, 395) also loses out due to the concentration of his vote in a single governorate.
In terms of relations with the Kurds, both Kanna and Aghajan have a history of doing business with Arbil. Kanna used to have a close relationship with the KRG but more recently has tried to create more balanced relations with Baghdad. Accordingly, it is Aghajan that is today seen as the “KDP choice”. For sure, members of the exiled community of Assyrians, which is strong in the United States, criticise both leaders for sell-out to the Kurds and a failure to insist on the scheme for a separate Assyrian state in the north. But while both leaders have voiced an interest in using federalism to designate some kind of homeland for the Christians in a territorial enclave, Kanna has apparently gravitated towards the idea of an arrangement with Baghdad whereas Aghajan supporters have talked about annexation of parts of Nineveh to the KRG and decentralisation on that basis. (It has to be added that neither scheme is constitutional, since only governorates can serve as basis for new federal entities.)
The big losers in this, thanks not least to the election system, are the traditional forces among Iraqi Christians that have emphasised the religious aspect of Christian identity instead of the ethno-sectarian one, and coexistence instead of a quest for federal solutions. Historically, those forces were strongest among the long-established Chaldean community. However, ever since the arrival of the Nestorian refugees from Hakkari after the First World War and their project of imposing an Assyrian national agenda on all Christians of Iraq, the Chaldeans have been at disadvantage, despite their numerical strength. In the 1920s and 1930s, the British favoured the Nestorian Assyrians by using them as levies and in high positions in the security forces. After 2003, Paul Bremer sidelined the Chaldeans and promoted Assyrian leaders because his mathematical model of proportional representation allowed space for one Christian only and the Assyrians were loudest! Today, the preference for Chaldean-oriented lists in places like Basra can be confirmed in the election result, but the rules of the game mean that this will not be sufficient to challenge Assyrian hegemony within the Christian community as a whole. Of course, had it not been for the single constituency, Christian voters outside the five governorates with designated minority seats would simply have voted like other Iraqi voters, with Iraqiyya and State of Law as the most like competitors among this segment.
All in all, the Kurds probably benefited most from the minority vote, since the 3 deputies that will be firmly in their camp represent less than 30,000 voters, or less than an average seat in the competition over ordinary seats. The full results are expected Friday evening.
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