Iraq elections: appealing across sectarian lines

There is no denying that the security situation has improved in Iraq, as for the first time candidates in the forthcoming elections will have their name printed on the ballot, and their face on election posters (if they choose).

I realistically expect the majority of votes for the 440 council seats will go to exclusively sectarian or ethnic parties, such as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (Shia) and the Iraqi Islamic Party (Sunni).

But I will watch with interest the performance of those individuals and parties who are appealing beyond such singular constituencies. For example, Jawad al-Bolani, a Shia and Iraq’s current interior minister, is the founder of the Constitutional Party, which is campaigning on a secular platform and the slogan, “Vote for Iraq’s unity”.

Also of interest is the banning of any political party affiliated with any militia. This caused the exclusion of firebrand Shia cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. His way around this will be to endorse particular non-aligned candidates.

As The Economist suggests, if there is any cross-ethnic/secular success, I expect it to be more in the urban than rural areas, where tribal loyalties remain strong. As quoted, “[Sheikh Mohammed Turki] is our sheikh and he is good for us.”

Many will be content that Iraqis are progressing towards deciding for themselves who will rule for themselves. But for me, Iraq has a potential useful feature of consensual nationalism and statehood to establish what Arend Lijphart defined as “cross-cutting cleavages”. In theory, establishing a more liberal democracy (versus Lijphart’s consociational democracy) should be more readily realised in Iraq than in Northern Ireland.

It would be a pity for those candidates and parties appealing for greater unity to fare poorly.

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