After Iraq election, fragile democracy faces the real test
Sunday's Iraq election saw good turnout despite scattered violence. But with no party powerful enough to rule alone, the tough task of coalition building begins for the nascent democracy.
The Iraq election has shored up the country’s fragile democracy, but the months ahead are fraught with potential dangers far more worrying than the bombs that echoed through Baghdad as voters went to the polls over the weekend.Skip to next paragraph
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With their second national election since Saddam Hussein was toppled behind them, Iraqi politicians' attention has turned to what sort of alliances are likely to be forged to form a new government – a process that could take well into the spring, or even early summer.
None of the parties by themselves are powerful enough to form a government. Early indications show Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Rule of Law coalition leading in the south, but former premier Iyad Allawi’s list coming in either second or third in each of the southern provinces.
Mr. Maliki, who heads the current Shiite-dominated government, has traditionally been strong in the Shiite south but voters across the country seem to be continuing a trend of turning away from religion-based parties in favor of coalitions they believe can offer them more basic things such as jobs and electricity.
The prime minister though remains personally popular for having taken on Shiite militias – sending in the Iraqi Army to drive them out from Basra and other cities that had fallen under their control. His support declines, however, in the largely Sunni West and in the north, where many Iraqis feel they’ve been neglected by the central government.
Allawi, a secular Shiite, who was installed as transitional prime minister by the US in 2003, heads a broader-based coalition that is also seen as less sectarian.
The major Kurdish parties are expected to play a key role in building or breaking any coalition.
“None of [the major parties] will have enough votes to form the government so definitely the Kurds can play a very important role,” Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government, told the Monitor in a recent interview. “For us in the Kurdistan regions, we are not going to decide until after the elections on how to be part of the alliances because there are many important issues we should negotiate.”
He said that included the commitment of any potential coalition parties to solving the issue of Kirkuk, the disputed oil-rich city which Kurds claim as their historic capital.
Concern about a possible vacuum
Any alliances appear possible, but one that relies on the Kurds to cement Allawi’s list could potentially be problematic. That list includes the Mosul-based party al-Hadbaa, which came to power in the provincial elections last year on what was widely seen as an anti-Kurdish platform.