Iraq’s elections : Why Muqatada al-Sadr’s win heralds a new era for Baghdad

Spearhead Special Report – 29.05.2018

By Fatima Ayub
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

On 12 May, 2018 Iraq saw its first elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 that witnessed Iraqi voters’ breakaway from the narrow, monolithic ethno-sectarian blocs that have characterized previous government-formation cycles in the past. The vote has assured that despite being a state still reeling from the effects of ISIS stronghold not too long ago, populist democracy may be replacing sectarianism as the defining force in Iraqi politics.

In this election, many voters abandoned their traditional divisions and supported two new political movements groups that promised to deliver the stability of a democratic administration that Iraqis have long hoped for; a corruption-free government with a strong national mandate run by a victor with a clear, nationalist agenda.

The Sairoon Alliance of populist Shia leader and firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadris won Iraq’s parliamentary elections in a remarkable comeback after being sidelined for years by his Iranian-backed rivals. Sadr’s win has not just upset the electoral history of identity politics but he has also dismantled the confidence of pro-Iran and pro-US hopefuls in the country. A fierce opponent of the Iraq War and the US, he’ll definitely be demanding the withdrawal of American troops. US foreign policy has lost massively in Iraq and will lose by extension in Syria.

With over 91 percent of votes counted in 16 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, Iran-backed Shia militia chief Hadi al-Amiri’s Fatah (Conquest) Coalition was in second place, while Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Nasr (Victory) Coalition once seen as the frontrunner, came in third.

Many in Iraq however believe that despite Sadr’s win, the 2018 election has deepened the country’s political fractures.

Intra-community factionalism emerged as the overarching theme of the elections, with Shia, Sunni and Kurdish houses all internally divided and competing for votes.

The winner, Muqtada al-Sadr, has about 55 of the 329 seats in Parliament. While Sadr’s 54 seats translate into only 16.4 percent of the seats in the new parliament, Iraqi politics are now so fragmented that the importance of his share is significantly amplified.

In order to form a government, at least four of the major blocks will need to coalesce, but without a clear mandate or agenda, parties will resort to old practices of buying off on government positions and doling out patronage to their supporters.

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