Iraq’s brief but contentious campaign season came to an end today with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and former PM Ayad Allawi trading condemnations in last second news conferences, and to the extent that polling data has been available it still shows a campaign too close to call.
Three key political blocs, Nouri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite State of Law bloc, the Iraqi National Alliance Shi’ite religious bloc, and Allawi’s secularist Iraqiya bloc are all in the running to form the next government. None is expected to net nearly enough seats in parliament to do so alone, but will have to rely on help from smaller factions.
And, of course, help will be sought from the Kurdish north. Perhaps the one job safest in all of Iraqi politics is Jalal Talabani’s presidency, as it is almost unthinkable a government will be formed without them Kurdish political bloc playing a key role. To that end Allawi’s bloc is at a distinct disadvantage, as its Sunni secularist members draw some seats from the Sunni areas near Kurdistan, which may come up for attempted annexation by the Kurdish bloc as part of negotiations.
Officials are hoping to have the votes counted quickly, but it is unlikely that even when the results are revealed it will be readily apparent who the ultimate “winners” will be. The blocs will then enter into negotiations to form the government, a process which could take weeks, even months.
Which is perhaps part of the reason Iraq’s young voters are so cynical about the prospect that the election will net anything good. Once touted by Western officials as a “stabilizing” event, there is now a sense that the best-case scenario will be an election which ends without sparking another civil war.