Iraq elections begin but forming a government could take months

No one group in Iraq is seen as being able to win an outright majority of at least parliamentary 165 seats.
Saturday 12/05/2018
An Iraqi woman shows her ink-stained index finger before a national flag after having cast her vote in the country’s parliamentary election, in the capital Baghdad's Karrada district on May 12. (AFP)
An Iraqi woman shows her ink-stained index finger before a national flag after having cast her vote in the country’s parliamentary election, in the capital Baghdad's Karrada district on May 12. (AFP)

LONDON - Iraqis have begun voting in parliamentary elections dominated by public concerns over corruption, employment, basic services and reconstruction as well as the country’s standing regionally but the shape of the new government is unlikely to be clear until quite some time after results are announced.

Iraqi authorities closed the country’s borders and airspace for 24 hours for security during the elections.

Approximately 24.5 million Iraqis are registered to vote in the fourth parliamentary election since the 2003 toppling of President Saddam Hussein. There are 329 seats at stake, with nearly 7,000 candidates from dozens of different political alliances.

Because so many different political alliances are running, no one group is seen as being able to win an outright majority of at least 165 seats. Instead, the bloc that wins the most seats will have to cobble together a majority by getting the support of smaller alliances.

The process of choosing the next prime minister is expected to take months and will probably result in power being dispersed across different political parties with clashing interests. The current government is similarly fractured, making it almost impossible to pass legislation.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will remain in office until a new prime minister is chosen.

An electronic voting system is being used for the first time to reduce fraud and speed up the counting process. Results are to be released within 48 hours after the polls close, said Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), which oversees the elections.

The introduction of the new voting system created different worries.

Sunni politicians expressed concern that turnout among members of their community may suffer because most of Iraq’s 2.3 million displaced people are Sunnis. Election officials said those who live in displacement camps will be able to vote in special polling stations in and around the camps by using any official ID card. Those living in rented housing or elsewhere will be required to show a biometric voting card, the distribution of which remains low.

There are no precise data on the displaced but Farhan al-Kiki, an election official in the Sunni-majority city of Mosul, told the Associated Press that only 67% of its residents have received a voting card.

Separately, there have been vocal calls to boycott the election to deny its legitimacy. However, even if such campaigns were successful, it would not change the process.

“Iraqi election law does not specify a certain percentage who must participate for elections to be legal and binding,” Adil al-Lami, an elections analyst and former head of IHEC, told the website Niqash.org

Political power is traditionally divided along sectarian lines among the offices of prime minister, president and parliament speaker. Shias have held the position of prime minister, Kurds have held the presidency and Sunnis have held the post of parliament speaker.

The constitution sets a quota for female representation, stating that no less than one-fourth of parliament members must be women. Nearly 2,600 women are running for office this year.

Women standing for election, however, have faced an unprecedented deluge of abuse and intimidation, including the publication of sex tapes, to scare them away from politics.

The United Nations branded the harassment of women “alarming.” The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq initiated a campaign called #WhyNot or #Shakobeha to encourage women into politics.

“Women are moving in larger numbers into the political sphere. Most of the electorate is absolutely open to that… but I think there are a few who are intimidated by it,” Alice Walpole, Deputy UN Special Representative for Iraq, told Reuters.

Once results of the election are ratified by Iraq’s supreme court, parliament is required to meet within 15 days. Its eldest member will lead the first session, during which a speaker is to be chosen. Parliament then must elect a president by a two-thirds majority vote within 30 days of its first meeting.

The president then is charged with naming a member of the largest bloc in parliament — the prime minister-designate — to form a cabinet within 30 days. If that individual fails, the president must nominate a new person for the post of prime minister.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)