With 325 seats in the Iraqi Parliament up for election, approximately 59 to 62 percent of eligible citizens turned out to vote. This figure, although notably less than the 75 percent of people who voted in 2005, represents those who cast their votes despite several violent attacks or threats, including one that claimed the lives of 38 people.
Despite depicting Iraqi commitment to vote in the face of danger, this statistic also reflects the inclusion of a party that largely boycotted the last elections, the Sunnis. There was concern leading up to the elections that there would be more Sunni disapproval after the disqualification of some 500 candidates on the basis of speculation of ties to the Baath Party, Saddam Hussein’s banned faction. This decision, however, was overturned by the courts that ruled to wait to decide on disqualifications until after the elections.
According to Mona DeBaz, a political science professor at John Carroll University, “We did see a better Sunni participation even though overall participation was down. Allawi seems to have attracted more of the Sunnis because he is a more secular leader and, even though he is a Shiite, the Sunnis feel more comfortable with his representation.”
Through this election, the people of Iraq are choosing among over 6,000 individuals in varying parties or coalitions who will in turn create the new Iraqi government, including the prime minister. The two front-runners for Prime Minister are incumbent Nouri Maliki of the State of Law coalition and former interim leader Iyad Allawi of the Al-Iraqiyya, or the Iraqi National Movement.
Although all the votes have been cast, it will still be days until a winner will be announced. This delay has led to accusations of fraud that have been made on both sides of what has turned out to be a very tight election. In reference to the validity of these allegations, DeBaz said, “A lot of it will have to deal with how long the results will take to announce. If the results take longer to announce, there may be more allegations made.”
Even once results are made public, it seems unlikely that one single coalition will have a majority. This will result in further uncertainty as the winner attempts to negotiate to form a new coalition government that will elect the prime minister. After the 2005 election, Maliki was only successful in achieving his post after months of compromise and discussions.
There is hope that these elections, which are perhaps the most open and democratic elections in all of Iraq’s history, will result in a government that is fully capable of governing a sovereign Iraq. However, much of this success will be determined only after the votes have all been tallied.
“The success or failure of the Iraq elections will be based on how long it takes to form a coalition government,” said DeBaz. “There were months of violence after the 2005 general election because there was a power vacuum and if this takes a long time, there may be more violence. The secret to stability is to get a coalition together as soon as possible.”