Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Archive for April 9th, 2010

The Intra-List Power Balance in Iraqiyya and State of Law

Posted by Reidar Visser on Friday, 9 April 2010 16:31

It is quite natural that discussions of internal stability within the big coalitions that won the 7 March parliamentary elections should focus on the Shiite-led Iraqi National Alliance (INA). Not only does the internal fragmentation in INA seem most dramatic in terms of strong centrifugal forces; there is also a marked contradiction between a leadership heavily dominated by the weaker blocs (ISCI/Badr; Jaafari) and a numerically strong element that is poorly represented at the top (the Sadrists). Nonetheless, it may be worth taking a look at the internal politics of the two other big alliances, Iraqiyya and State of Law, which despite a stronger degree of internal coherence (or a greater lack of obvious foci for large-scale defections) both exhibit certain interesting trends as far as the use of the open-list system is concerned, at least in some of the governorates.

First though, one theoretical note on the Iraqi implementation of the open-list system. It cannot be stressed too much that the Iraqi electoral system is a hybrid of a closed list system and an open-list system. The method for counting the votes was left unspecified in the amended electoral law last autumn, and in its regulation on the subject, the election commission (IHEC) opted for a quite radical approach as far as the weight of open-list (tick an individual on the list) versus closed-list usage (no preference expressed) of the ballot was concerned: The final ordering of the candidates is decided only by the number of personal votes obtained, with no regard to original position on the list. In democratic theory, this could be said to be somewhat problematic, since one might well argue that a list vote with no candidate preferences indicated is not only a vote for the political entity in question, but also for the particular ordering of candidates on the list, as per the preset ranking decided by the leadership. (If the order on the list counted for nothing, the candidates might as well have been listed alphabetically, or according to age, or whatever.) Arguably, then, a more balanced approach to the hybrid of open and closed list would be to count each unmarked ballot as a vote for the top candidate on the list, transferring the vote to the next highest when the first has achieved the number required to win a seat and so on. This is of course all utterly academic as long as IHEC has ruled the way it has, but it does explain why well-organised radical challenges from below are quite easy under the Iraqi system (as seen first and foremost in the case of the Sadrists), and also why minor differences can have an enormous impact when the general number of personal votes is low, not least with respect to the women’s quota (where the struggle is often between candidates with votes in the 3-digit range).

Back to Iraqiyya and State of Law and their internal dynamics, a document from Iraqiyya provides an overview of the affiliations of the various winning candidates that can be summarised in the following table:

INM(Wifaq) INM(Hiwar) Nujayfi Karbuli Hashemi Eisawi Yawer TF Abtan
Basra 3
Dhi Qar 1
Qadisiyya 2
Babel 3
Karbala 1
Wasit 2
Baghdad 8 4 1 5 3 3
Anbar 3 3 2 3
Diyala 1 4 1 1 1
Salahaddin 4 1 1 1 1
Nineveh 2 2 7 1 1 6 1
Kirkuk 2 1 2 1
TOTAL (89) 27 16 9 12 7 8 6 3 1

***TF=Turkmen Front

Several points are noteworthy here. The first concerns terminology: Wifaq (the Ayyad Allawi group) and Hiwar (the Salih al-Mutlak group) have been listed separately in the party document because that reflects their status at the time of the registration of political entities for the elections in the summer of 2009. However, the two merged to form an integrated political movement, the Iraqi National Movement, later in the autumn. In that sense, they are now formally more closely integrated than, say, the two Daawa branches or even ISCI and Badr (somewhat confusingly, Iraqiyya also sometimes uses INM as an acronym for the entire Iraqiyya coalition). With 43 seats altogether, the Iraqi National Movement will probably be the biggest coherent entity in the new parliament, slightly bigger than the Sadrist bloc. It will be the only group in parliament with representation from Basra in the south to Nineveh in the north.

Another notable feature is that the potential challenges from competing centres of power are less pronounced than in the case of INA. This is so partly because of size (the biggest such bloc is that affiliated with Jamal Nasir al-Karbuli, president of the Iraqi Red Crescent, with 12 seats; Rafi al-Eisawi, sometimes referred to as an emerging player, has only got eight) and partly because of regional concentration/limitation (the Nujayfi and Yawer blocs limited to Nineveh where they have almost all their seats). Moreover, since it is the Mutlak and Karbuli groups that have been targeted most intensely by the de-Baathification committee (including an attempt at banning them as entities), any post-election de-Baathification that promotes other candidates of the list is only likely to strengthen the position of Allawi. With respect to the use of the open-list system, Iraqiyya voters south of Baghdad have largely followed the preferences of the party leadership, but in the capital and areas north there are certain interesting promotions, including Hasan Khudayr (a sahwa figure affiliated with Wifaq who jumped from 83rd to third position), Hamid Jassam (from the Karbuli camp, from 107th to eighth) and Talal Hussein al-Zawbai (Nujayfi group, from 129th to ninth). Some of these tendencies can also be seen in Nineveh, but on the whole the usage of the open-list system has a less dramatic and systematic impact on intra-list dynamics than in the case of Sadrists within INA. With the possible exceptions of the Karbuli bloc in Baghdad and the Yawer bloc in Mosul (Shammar tribe), the challenges “from below” are not particularly strong or concerted when it comes to Iraqiyya.

Many of the same tendencies can be seen with regard to State of Law, although the source material is less comprehensive here – limited to complete breakdowns for Basra and Wasit, a list of 40 candidates of the Tanzim al-Iraq branch of the Daawa (for all of Iraq), a list of the much smaller independent bloc affiliated with oil minister Hussein al-Shahristani (ditto), as well as complete lists from Baghdad and Najaf without entity affiliations but with some tribal names that make identification of individuals somewhat easier. The following table has around 20 unconfirmed seats and as such probably puts the main branch of the Daawa somewhat lower than what it should be:

Daawa (Maliki) Daawa (Tanzim) Harakat al-Daawa Shahristani Other independent Unconfirmed
Basra 5 3 1 2 3
Maysan 3 1
Dhi Qar 2 4 1 1
Muthanna 1 1 2
Qadisiyya 1 1 2
Babel 2 1 2 3
Najaf 1 3 3
Karbala 1 1 2 2
Wasit 3 2
Baghdad 6 2 1 10 7
Diyala 1
TOTAL (87) 22+ 13 1 6 25 20

***”Unconfirmed” candidates are likely to include additional Daawa deputies

SLA voting in Baghdad offers perhaps the best example of voters taking a passive (or, some would say, futile) approach to the open-list. On the one hand, there is the big “presidential” (or more correctly, “prime ministerial”) vote for Maliki the person (622,000). Then, with the exception of Jaafar al-Sadr (29,000), there is a huge gap to the next vote-getters, with many winners in the 3,000 range. Moreover, these candidates tend to be from the Daawa or they are independents, and as such unlikely to pose a big challenge to Maliki’s leadership.

That same tendency applies across the governorates where SLA won seats. The only systematic exception is the performance of Tanzim al-Iraq, which is particularly strong in the far south. In Basra, this is counterbalanced by a healthy score for Daawa candidates, but in Maysan and Dhi Qar the ascendancy of this SLA element – often thought to be somewhat closer to Iran than the rest of the Daawa – seems significant. Elsewhere, though, the bloc of Shahristani has gained only a modest number of seats. Additionally, many of the “independent” candidates seem to reflect the successful recruitment by SLA of government officials, who may be particularly loyal to Maliki for that reason. Typically, they are director-generals or high-ranking officials in the service sector, including a high number of medical doctors. Notable “climbers”  within the SLA include Adnan Rumayyid al-Shahmani (an ex-Sadrist who advanced from 93 to 10 in Baghdad) and Ibrahim al-Rikabi (a tribal shaykh of the Bani Rikab, from 76 to 19 also in Baghdad). Given the overall picture, though, these seem to represent successful cases of co-option rather than zones of insecurity for Maliki.

What are we to make of these numbers? Rather than atomizing, should we not be looking for bigger combinations right now? The point is that these dynamics are well known by party leaders and will shape negotiations over coming months. Already, the Sadrists are making use of their strong position within INA to signal their own preferences for the choice of prime minister. In this respect, both Iraqiyya and SLA still seem to be in reasonably good shape internally, with Allawi and Maliki not facing any systematic challenges to their own positions. One thing to think about for Maliki, though, is that if he merges with INA in a pan-Shiite bloc, the main branch of the Daawa will seem comparatively small, with independents being neutralised and the Tanzim al-Iraq branch potentially leaning more towards Iran and ISCI/Badr.

Posted in Iraq's 2010 parliamentary election, Iraqi nationalism, UIA dynamics | 54 Comments »