Today was the day for the official launch of electoral campaigns for the December 15 election when Iraq is going to elect its first 4 year term parliament and government since the fall of the dictator. The launch was marked by the two major blocs (I mean the united alliance and the Iraqi slate of Allawi) submitting their lists of candidates to the public after the lists were delivered to the IECI yesterday.
The media has extensively covered the press conferences of the big slates and it was easy to see the divisions that happened inside the united alliance because their spokesman today was Abdulaziz Al-Hakim instead of Ali Al-Dabbagh or Ahmed Al-Chalabi who were the usual spokesmen in front of the press but not anymore since they departed the alliance and formed their own separate slates.
Dabbagh announced the formation of a group of independent technocrats and emphasized that religion and politics have to be separated and that religion must take the role described in the constitution but that would be all and “policies and development plans should stay far from religious beliefs”.
At the same time the founder of the united alliance Chalabi and his INC pulled from the alliance too and I think Chalabi is expecting the alliance to lose its leading position after the government it led showed a lot of weaknesses in running the country’s affairs in the past several months, add to that, Ayatollah Sistani so far refrained from endorsing the alliance.
Chalabi is obviously dissatisfied with the places his INC was offered within the alliance (only 3 places) and that is certainly not equal to their influence and position. Anyway, I don’t expect Chalabi would get a lot more than the 3 seats he was promised by the alliance.
The parties that remained in the alliance’s slate are the SCIRI, the Da’wa (two branches), the Sadrists, Fadheela party, Iraqi Hizbollah and some other smaller parties like the Islamic Turkmen union. This shows that this slate has assumed a pure sectarian identity after the few relatively liberal elements that used to be part of it decided to leave.
Al-Hakim promised his supporters a majority in the parliament but I actually doubt; things are much different now and no one slate can form a majority by itself.
This religious trend is facing stronger competition from the growing secular that absorbed the lesson from last time and are uniting themselves in one broad front announced to the public this morning by Allawi. This launch was prepared for by numerous press releases and conferences and the slate succeeded in adding more parties to the original one that entered the January elections, most important of these news members are the bloc of former president Al-Yawir, the communists led by Hameed Mousa, the Independent democrats led by Pachachi (both are former GC members) as well as many other smaller parties and independent figures.
The competition will be strongest between these main slates; that’s the two mentioned above and the Kurdish one that only lost its Islamic element (the Kurdistan Islamic Party) and the Sunni Concord front formed by the Islamic party and the national dialogue council.
The results in the Kurdish provinces are predictable but elsewhere in Iraq things are different and not easy to forecast; the Sunni parties think they can win most of the seats in the 4 provinces with Sunni majority and so do the Sheat parties when it comes to provinces with Sheat majority but the question that remains is how many votes Allawi can steal from sectarian based alliances in their expected areas of influence.
On the other hand, Baghdad will be the main battleground for the competing slates and everyone will try hard to win as many votes as possible to win a bigger chunk from the 59 seats allocated to the mosaic population capital.
I hope these parties will rise to the level of responsibility and present to us an example of fair competition through offering their views and platforms and leaving the choice to the people without any pressure or intimidation.
As a matter of fact, it has to be acknowledged that the political experiment in Iraq has matured by far during these two and a half years and the political language slowly began to take more realistic dimensions and we can sense a growing faith in the ways of democracy giving some sort of special divinity to the ballot box which shall remain the only base for building a new Iraq.
The more Iraqis believe in elections and in voting as a way to express themselves, the weaker violence becomes and the more isolated the terrorists will be.
Iraqis will prove that they do believe in democracy and they do want liberty and justice and the will show the region an example of how partners can work out their differences in spite of all the hardships.