Just as Nuri al-Maliki was talking tough again in a way reminiscent of the strongman prime minister that emerged in 2008, the Iraqi parliament has dealt a severe blow to him and his State of Law alliance.
Today, parliament voted against sacking the independent electoral commission (IHEC). Only some 94 deputies out of 245 present voted in favour of the proposal by State of Law to dismiss the commission.
In other words, Maliki only managed to obtain the support of a handful of deputies outside his own State of Law alliance (which now holds around 88 seats). Subsequent to the vote, Maliki allies criticised other Shiite Islamists like ISCI, Fadila and the Sadrists for “colluding in corruption” by refusing to sack IHEC, once more underlining the essentially fictional character of the all-Shiite National Alliance that delivered Maliki his second premiership in late 2010. The vote of the small Shiite parties is not terribly surprising since the Shiite IHEC members are considered to be closer to these parties than to Maliki; the vote of the secular Iraqiyya, for its part, seems to reflect a primary aim of being at variance with Maliki (Iraqiyya’s own influence within IHEC is minimal and the commission let Iraqiyya down several times before the 2010 elections on issues like Kirkuk and de-Baathification).
The vote also illustrates the fictional character of the “political majority” alternative that Maliki has kept talking about. He simply does not have the votes to embark on that right now. Unfortunately for the dynamics of Iraqi politics going forward, today’s developments will probably add fuel to the flames of Iraqiyya’s demand for early elections. The key question in that respect is whether the demand is realistic: Shiite parties who have loyalists inside IHEC may well turn against Maliki on that issue, but are they likely to sack his government as long as they have ministries? And most crucially, what about the Kurds – the only party that has at least obtained something from Maliki in the shape of northern oil exports? Are they likely to ask for a reshuffling of the cards at this point? It should be remembered that the Kurds want to change the formula for allocating deputies before the next parliamentary elections, which would be difficult if elections were called anytime soon. And finally, is the demand for early elections likely to meet with any international support? Does the Obama administration have any appetite for elections and the insecurity that will come with them at a time when all they seem to want is clarification regarding a post-2011 US military presence?
Perhaps what today’s vote show first and foremost is the entrenched and unrealistic character of Maliki’s current political strategy. It is not unlikely that events will be superseded by a second unrealistic alternative in the shape of more calls for early elections, leading to an ever more polarised political climate.