Iraq’s interim prime minister has formally appealed the results of this month’s parliamentary elections.
“I want to point out that there was confusion in the election results,” Nuri al-Maliki told a Baghdad press conference. “We will wait to see what the legal and judicial institutions say about this issue. Everyone should be bound by the decision that will come from them,” he said.
His State of Law coalition, which finished a close second in the March 7 poll, is in talks with radical Islamist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Iraqi National Alliance. The merger talks are an attempt to form a largely Shia voting bloc that would outweigh former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s cross-sectarian Iraqiya group, which narrowly won the election.
The talks “are at an advanced stage,” according to a prominent Maliki associate.
With no clear winner emerging from the poll, some form of coalition is essential and that inevitably entails highly-charged negotiations, according to Laith Kubba, director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy.
“There will be a lot of flexibility and a lot of frustration,” Kubba explains. But “that is what politics is actually all about,” he says, “if people can learn the art of making compromises.”
Contrary to Maliki’s claims, domestic and international observers pronounced the election free and fair.
The election was “genuinely competitive”, writes Leslie Campbell, regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Democratic Institute, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. “It is important that Iraq’s progress is not reversed by those attempting to manipulate the results for their own purposes in the election’s aftermath,” he insists.
Allawi, a secular Shiite, fears that the proposed merger would enhance the influence of Iran and effectively signal a return to sectarian government, prompting a return to “violence, and maybe severe violence.”
“This will cause a very severe and serious backlash in the country. It will take it to square one,” Allawi told Reuters. “It will really be quite devastating.”
Iran has invited all of the major parties – bar Iraqiya – to Tehran for consultations.
He denounced the post-election attempt to disqualify six successful Iraqiya candidates for alleged ties to Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party, and suggested that a further 16 could be disqualified.
“This is a political issue. They want to get rid of their opponents. They want to undermine us,” Allawi said “They want to undermine the winner, and this is an unacceptable practice. It’s not compatible with democracy. It’s really a way to hijack democracy.”
As the politicking continues and despite the threat of renewed violence, many commentators have remarked on the relative health and resilience of the country’s fragile democracy and noted the degree of popular participation in the electoral process.
In the run-up to the elections, the International Republican Institute and its Iraqi civil society partners launched a massive voter education and get-out-the-vote effort, engaging some five million direct contacts through mock ballots and newsletters outlining key issues.
NDI assisted the Iraqi-based Sun Network for Monitoring Elections, a consortium of some 113 local NGOs, in conducting “sample-based observation” or parallel vote tabulation, writes Campbell, who also draws attention to the vibrancy of Iraqi civil society.
“Thousands of citizens’ organizations have emerged — many of them devoted to tackling social ills, cleaning up the environment, improving local communities, and protecting human rights,” he notes.