Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced the final results of the provincial elections on May 4, 2013. Like 2009, no coalition won an outright majority. In fact, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law Alliance (SLA) lost over 30% of its total seats across Iraq. Furthermore, SLA no longer has an absolute majority within Baghdad and Basra. Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s under performance in the Provincial elections challenges his majoritarian-government ambition. However, the strong performance of the combined Shi’a coalition in Diyala represents a significant shift in provincial power along ethno-sectarian lines. As well in Salahaddin, where a new local party won the plurality, Maliki may be able to leverage a personal relationship to his advantage.
Elections took place on April 20 in 12 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. The Kurdish provinces and Kirkuk were exempt, and Ninewa and Anbar elections were delayed until July 4. There wereover 13 million registered voters across the country, and over six million cast their ballots this year, resulting in a 51% turnout. This participation rate is nearly identical to the rateof the 2009 provincial elections. For individual provinces, Baghdad registered the lowest turnout with 33%, and Salahaddin registered the highest with 61%.
As depicted in the graphic above, Maliki’s State of Law Alliance maintained the highest total number of seats in this election. The total dropped from 154 seats to an estimated 102 seats since the last election. Of Iraq’s nine predominantly Shi’a southern provinces and in Baghdad, Maliki’s State of Law Alliance (SLA) came in first place in seven provinces, garnering 97 seats out of 315 seats. Nonetheless, the SLA was not able to capture an outright majority in any province, but maintained a plurality in Basra (16 of 35) and Baghdad (20 of 58). This represents a precipitous decline in Baghdad, from 31 seats in 2009 to 20 in 2013.
In many cases, in Baghdad, Basra, and Maysan specifically, SLA lost key votes to the other Shi’a coalitions, the Sadrists and Citizen’s Alliance. The Sadrists, who supportedfour electoral coalitions, were able to capture 55 seats in the southern provinces and Baghdad, and a portion of the Shi’a coalition seats in Salahaddin and Diyala. This represents a rise in at least 14 seats as compared to the 2009 elections and a successful electoral strategy. ISCI’s performance among the Iraqi Shi’a parties stands out even further, given ISCI’s decliningpolitical fortunes since the March 2010 elections. In the southern provinces and Baghdad, the Citizen’s Alliance gained at least seven seats. The success of these coalitions is at the expense of Maliki’s SLA, which lost a conservative estimated total of 47 seats.
In other cases, such as Qadisiyah and Babil, all of the main Shi’a coalitions lost votes to other smaller Shi’a parties. A number of local coalitions were able to perform well. Prominent among them is the performance of the Loyalty to Najaf coalition, which is led by incumbent Najaf governor, Adnan Al-Zorfi. His coalition had 4 seats in the outgoing provincial council and won 9 in these elections. This is evidence of his popularity within the province.
Elections were also held in Salahaddin and Diyala, where Sunni participation was concentrated, given the delay in elections in Anbar and Ninewa. In Salahaddin, the Iraqiyya Masses Alliance, which is led by the provincial governor, Ahmed Al-Juburi, garner 7 seats out of 29. The Iraqiyah Masses Alliance was a new party in these elections, and it won a plurality in Salahaddin over the major Shi’a and Sunni coalitions. It was followed by Mutahidun, which is led by prominent Iraqi Sunni politician and speaker of the Council of Representatives, Osama Al-Nujaifi. Al-Juburi is perceived to be close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but this does not appear to have hindered him in these elections despite the ongoing anti-government protest movement. This may present a post-election opportunity for Maliki to exert influence in Salahaddin.
In Baghdad and Salahaddin, it appears very likely that Mutahidun was able to capitalize on its anti-Maliki stance to win seven seats as compared to Saleh al-Mutlag’s Arab Iraqiyya, which lost seats across the board. Al-Mutlag has been working more closely with Maliki as compared to other Iraqi Sunni politicians. His relative performance in Baghdad in particular may be the result of his close relations to Maliki. In Diyala and Babil, al-Mutlag formed coalitions with al-Nujaifi. Together, they won a new seat in Babil sustained 10 seats in Diyala. Diyala represented a loss to both on account of the strong performance of the combined Shi’a coalition.
Diyala was the game-changing province in these elections. In 2009, Mutahidun, Arab Iraqiyya, and the Kurdish coalition held 21 of 29 seats. In 2013, the major Shi’a coalitions combined forces to achieve a plurality of 12 seats, where only three seats had gone to State of Law before. In combination, Mutahidun and Arab Iraqiyya were able to hold on to ten seats while Ayad Allawi’s party retained two seats, but the Kurds were reduced from six seats to three. The Kurds also lost two seats in Salahaddin. This shift in power in Diyala is drastic. The Shi’a now hold 12 seats, the Sunni Arabs now hold 12 seats, and the Kurds now hold three. Because of this, coalition-building is likely to be more arduous than in other provinces. Diyala’s volatile past, including its status as the former capital of the Islamic State of Iraq, makes the province a critical bell-weather for political participation across the country.
Final certified results are to be announcedby May 17. The elected council members will have 45 days after that to elect provincial council chairs and governors. An absolute majority of votes is needed to fill both positions. The results dictate that political coalitions have to cooperate in order to form governments. To that end, talks are underway to form governing coalitions. ISCI in particular is reaping the rewards of its political revival. Its major decision remains about whether it will choose to join forces with the Sadrists in order to isolate Maliki. At any rate, it is early to determine the shape of the governing-coalitions. But it will be difficult for Maliki’s local allies to form majority governments. Maliki and his SLA emerge from the elections forced to reconsider their strategy. Maliki backedproposals to amend the de-Ba’athification laws. This may have negatively impacted his electoral performance. That may explain why the SLA has been reluctant to push for amending the de-Ba’athification laws.
Moving forward, the shape of the governing coalitions will provide early indications of electoral alignments for the 2014 elections. This is especially important for the Iraqi Shi’a parties who will be poised to compete for Iraq’s top executive position, the premiership. As violence continues to escalate in the midst of a volatile anti-government protest movement, it is imperative for Maliki and his cabinet to ensure a peaceful transfer of power in all provinces.
Ahmed Ali is an Iraq Research Analyst at the Institute for the Study of War.