Saturday, April 10, 2010

Don't Panic: So, who won Iraq’s election?

By Andisheh Nouraee

During the last week of March, the never-gets-anything-wrong news media reported that challenger Ayad Allawi defeated incumbent Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq’s recent election.
“Secular former leader Allawi wins Iraq vote,” said Reuters.
“Allawi wins Iraqi election,” said McClatchy.
“Allawi victory in Iraq sets up period of uncertainty,” said the New York Times.
I was overjoyed to read this news. “Boo-ya!” I thought. “Maybe now I’ll finally be able to sell some of the 10,000 ‘Don’t Blame Me, I voted for Nouri al-Maliki’ bumper stickers I bought before Iraq’s 2005 elections.”
(A related word of advice: Stay away from CafePress.com when you’re drunk.)
Anyhoo, it turns out my joy was unwarranted. You see, Allawi didn’t actually win the election.
Iraq’s parliament has 325 seats (not counting those folding chairs in the hallway closet). To “win” an election in parliamentary, your party or an alliance of parties needs a majority.
Using a complicated system of formulas and calculations I like to call “arithmetic,” I was able to determine that “winning” a “majority” in the Iraqi parliament requires 163 seats. Allawi’s alliance of parties, known as the Iraqiya list, only nabbed 91 seats in the election.
Using another series of complex formulas and calculations I like to call “looking at two numbers side-by-side to see which one is bigger,” I was able to determine that 91 is, in fact, a smaller number than 163. Therefore, Allawi did not actually win the Iraqi election. You read it here first, America.
The winner of the Iraq’s election will be the political grouping able to form the cross-party alliances necessary to secure a 163-seat majority. Allawi’s 91 seats is merely a plurality. Flat-out calling it a win is just another example of the lazy foreign-policy reporting that suckered Americans into thinking we could turn Iraq and Afghanistan into magicflowerfairylands using smart bombs and Marines who’ve learned how to say “please” and “thank you” in Arabic and Pashto.
In parliamentary systems where no single party has a majority, the group with the plurality usually has the best chance of forming a majority coalition. In Iraq’s case, however, Allawi’s path to 163 votes is anything but clear. Don’t be surprised if the alliance led by second-place finisher, current Prime Minister Al-Maliki, ends up trumping Allawi.
Maliki’s group, known as the State of Law coalition, won 89 seats. Representatives from State of Law just met in neighboring Iran with Muqtada al-Sadr, who controls the largest party in the third-place Iraqi National Alliance coalition.
Sadr has the potential to be a bit of a king-maker, but as yet it’s unclear which way he’s gonna go. Sadr and Maliki don’t especially get along. Maliki’s signature act as prime minister was the early 2008 crackdown in Basra against militias loyal to Sadr. But Sadr is also staunchly opposed to the continued U.S. occupation. Allawi is closer to the U.S. than Maliki is. In the eyes of Sadrists, that’s a strike against Allawi. So Sadr might go with Maliki for the right political price.
What price is that? The Al-Hayat newspaper (written in Arabic, but paraphrased in English by University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole) reports Sadr wants Maliki to release Sadrist prisoners, as well as offer assurances that a new Maliki government will actually share power with coalition members. The same report suggests the prisoner releases have already begun.
So, back to the question at the top of the page: Who won?
No one yet knows. On April 2, Sadr held a referendum to determine public opinion on who he and his party should throw his support behind. The winner of that referendum will be the front-runner.
It is clear, however, who lost. The good old U.S.A. Leaders from three of the four biggest political groups have gone to Iran for their post-election wheeling and dealing. Iraqi leaders, by and large, don’t give a crap what we think. Iran’s influence over Iraqi politics is steady or rising. Our influence is fading.

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