I had focused on three provinces in the run-up to the provincial elections by writing a series for Hudson-NY on what the results from these case studies may reveal about trends and trajectories in Iraqi politics. The results are finally in, and it’s time to crunch the numbers:
Basra’s election was supposed to reveal the true depth of the popularity seemingly enjoyed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and well, the guy does seem to be very popular given that he had taken in 37 percent of the vote according to the initial tally released by the Iraqi Higher Electoral Commission. In an unprecedented outcome, Maliki’s rivals who had been sponsored by the Hakim family and the Fadhila Party, and who had previously dominated the politics of Basra, were crushed at the polls. The Hakims controlled 20 out the 41 seats in the former provincial council elected to office in 2005, but only managed to rake in 11.6 percent of the vote. Even more surprisingly, the Fadhila could boast 18 seats in the 2005 elections, yet they were reduced to 3.2 percent of the electorate.
The unpopularity of the Hakims’ association with Iran and Fadhila’s corruption scandals merged seamlessly with the gratitude felt by the people of Basra over the defeat of the militias that had taken over their city to give Maliki this big win.
The Sadrists, after declaring that they won’t partake in these elections, threw in their lot behind one of the supposedly ‘independent’ slates at the eleventh hour, earning a measly 5 percent. It is remarkable that the Sadrists did so poorly considering that even a small, cloistered splinter Shia sect like the Sheikhis earned 5.5 percent of the tally.
The province’s Sunnis were dealt a blow after their best performing slate—that of the Islamic Party—got only 3.8 percent. The Sunnis had pumped themselves up to believe that they accounted for 20 percent of the population of Basra (Iraq hasn’t had a census in decades), only to find out at the polls that that’s not the case.
The results from Anbar were supposed to tell us whether tribes are to be a significant political player in Iraq’s future, and the answer is no. The traditional tribal forces had organized themselves within the ‘Tribes of Iraq List’ led by one of several contenders to the grand but ultimately hollow title of the ‘Prince of the Dulaim Tribe’, Ali Hatem al-Suleiman, in alliance with Hamid al-Hayis, a male nurse turned ferocious Al-Qaeda nemesis who had been the former director of the Iraqi National Congress’ office in Ramadi, the capital of Anbar. The Dulaim are by far the most populous tribe in the province. Yet this slate only got 4.5 percent of the vote.
The other Anbar list that most analysts take to be ‘tribal’ is not very tribal at all. It is led by Ahmad Abu Risha, brother to slain Awakening Councils founder Sattar Abu Risha. Their tribe is very small in number, numbering a few hundred. But Ahmad had shied away from tribalism, and billed himself and his coalition as one of urbane businessmen and administrators. They won by 17.1 percent, the second highest vote earners. A rival list, of similar composition headed by the former deputy head of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, who also happens to be a tribal chief, managed to pull off a respectable 7.8 percent. In a sense, the ‘tribesman-turned-chic’ category was the second biggest winners of Anbar’s ballot.
The foremost winners were the neo-Ba’athists, whose best-performing lists took in 17.6 percent, 6.6 percent and 4.6 percent respectively. The next governor of Anbar will probably be picked from their ranks, and Abu Risha has already signaled that he is willing to join their coalition.
The biggest and most unexpected loser was the Iraqi Islamic Party that had trumpeted itself as the leader of Iraq’s Sunnis. Here in Iraq’s most homogenous Sunni province, they only received 15.9 percent—even so, they are being accused of ballot stuffing to get this paltry showing. This is a remarkable defeat for Islamist politics in Sunni provinces, notwithstanding all the accusations of corruption and complicity with the ‘occupation’ leveled against the IP. For example, a more militant and equally well-funded Islamist list that had vocally supported the insurgency squeaked by with only 3.2 percent of the vote, reflecting the fact that fundamentalists have lost their footing among Sunnis in a general sense.
Secularists untainted with a Ba’athist background had their best chances of success in Baghdad, but the results revealed that Iraqi voters are still a far way off from voting for liberal democratic values. The most compelling candidate would have been Mithal al-Alusi, whose slate only managed to earn 1.6 percent of the total. Ahmad Chalabi’s slate didn’t even make it to the 1 percent mark.
Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, an unapologetic former Ba’athist, won a solid bloc of 8.6 percent, probably propelled upwards by middle class Shias who saw him as the only viable ‘secular’ alternative to the Islamists. Allawi’s success is another indicator that liberal and democratic values have not found traction with secular voters.
As in Basra, Maliki was the clear victor in Baghdad with 38 percent, a mirror image of the gratitude felt by many people in Baghdad for his takedown of the Sadrist militias last year. Even though Baghdad includes the bastion of the Sadrist movement, the slum district of Sadr City where a third of the capital’s population lives, their favored slate earned only 9 percent of the vote.
The Hakims had been in control of Baghdad’s former provincial council, with 28 seats out of 51, but this time around they only managed to rake in 5.4 percent, an upset similar to the one they faced in Basra.
The Sunnis will again scoff at the idea that they are a minority among Baghdad’s population, where the best performing Sunni slates managed to win 9 percent and 6.9 percent respectively. Even if one is to account for some Sunnis voting for Allawi’s slate, that would indicate that Sunnis account for no more than 20 percent of Baghdad’s population.
Faylis, a sizable minority in Baghdad, chose their sect (Shia) over their assumed ethnicity (Kurdish), resulting in a no-show for Kurdish slates in the new provincial council.