As in the previous Iraqi elections, Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki was the strongest contender this time around, with a vast distance reportedly opening up between him and his opponents.
Sectarian, ethnic and religious divisions have allowed Shi’ites the right to head the government. The prime minister’s post represents the most powerful political position in the country, giving the holder broad powers, making them head of the Armed Forces and—the presidency notwithstanding—the de facto head of state. That said, the prime minister’s power is somewhat restricted by the Iraqi parliament, for it is parliament, and not the prime minister, that has the sole right to approve the budget, and as such, has the power to govern public spending.
So for any prime minister to have complete power, he must have a parliamentary majority in order first to be able to form a government and, second, to have parliament pass the laws and decisions he wants. If this isn’t the case, the prime minister’s position is a mere formality. Such political paralysis would be reflected in state institutions becoming politically unstable, and this would consequently become a security risk.
So, after the latest elections, we can safely say that Maliki now faces two possible outcomes.
The first outcome sees him unable to achieve his dream of leading a majority government that represents factions willing to work together within the framework of a unified national agenda. This majority would not necessarily include all political groups, but out of it a government bloc and an opposition bloc could emerge. This would simulate what occurs in long-established parliamentary democracies such as Britain’s, where there are two main parties in play—one in power and one in opposition.
To achieve this, Maliki must do two things. First, he must win a high percentage of parliamentary seats, which despite the lack of official results seems likely, if we are to believe some of the leaks making their way into the press. Second, he must forge an alliance with the Kurdish bloc, consolidate the Shi’ite vote and ensure support from a certain percentage of Sunnis. It seems Maliki’s success in this regard is likely, especially with the pressure from Shi’a and Kurdish interest groups.
If Maliki were able to do this, it would resolve many of the crises that virtually paralyzed his government during his troublesome second term. But he would have to be decisive on political and security issues. He would also be obliged to take advantage of regional relations, with Iran and Syria in particular, as well as maintain US support.
The second scenario, of course, sees Maliki failing to form a majority government—an event we must count as a distinct possibility. Maliki would then be faced with a difficult test, having to choose between two options: He would either retreat from forming a “political alliance”—the campaign platform on which he ran this year—and seek instead a “national alliance” that involves all parties in the government without damaging his or anyone else’s credibility. Otherwise, he would have to stop being so picky about who is in this government and allow a close ally to share power with him. In this situation, governance would devolve to its previous state, the security situation would worsen, and the government would be wracked by political instability and stagnation, which could possibly prevent Maliki from forming a government at all. Continuity is essential if you wish to properly conduct the government’s business and affairs.
Maliki cannot risk forming another government like his last one. A government with a national political majority seems most likely, especially if Maliki is daring enough, as some of the leaks have suggested, to hand over the position of president to a Sunni Arab instead of a Kurd. A close executive power alliance between Sunnis and Shi’ites would reflect positively on the stability of Iraq, especially if the country were able to put its regional relations in order the way it is doing now with Iran and Syria. Outside of these scenarios, Iraq’s stability will be put in question, whether Maliki is able to form a national coalition government or is voted out of power entirely.
The counterpoint to this article can be read here.