Monday, March 8, 2010

Happy Election Day 2010…in Iraq!

Summary: Iraqis went to the polls today in what is sure to have been a close election.

Turnout in Iraq’s elections today were down a bit from 2005 - in which about 76% of the country cast ballots - but estimates show that about 55% - 60% still came to vote.

So who was running and who will win?

Well, for starters, the dynamic has changed up quite a bit since the last national elections. The number of seats in Parliament is increasing from 275 seats to 325 seats, accounting for an increase in the general population (as their constitution requires).

The parties have changed around a bit as well. There are dozens of parties - as well as several independent candidates - which form into coalitions. The main three for 2010 are the State of Law Coalition (headed by PM Nouri al-Maliki), the National Iraqi Alliance, and the Iraqi National Movement (headed by former PM Iyad Allawi).

Now, al-Maliki’s Islamic Da’awa Party used to be part of the National Iraqi Alliance, until they split around 2008, and now run on separate tickets. As a result, the bloc of parties that will control of Parliament is not as certain as it was in 2005.

In fact, a poll last month by Iraq’s National Media Center of 5,000 voters seemed to confirm the uncertainty looking forward.

So it appears unlikely that there will be a clear cut winner after the ballots are counted. It is more likely that negotiations between the parties will go on for some time while they jockey for position while combining (or even splitting) party coalitions and forming a government.

This is unfortunate because it could lead to a lot of tension among Iraqis, especially during a period in which there is no government to act. Some would say it was this period following the 2005 elections which sent the country into two of the bloodiest years of the Iraq War.

Luckily, this year’s coalitions have so far formed less around sectarian similarities and more around political ones. It is possible that this will be easier on the country as the political battles won’t be over ancient religious rifts.

We’ll have to see.

In the meantime, if you’d like to read-up on the campaigns, take time to read this interesting analysis by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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