Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 February 2005
Issue No. 730
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The Sunna challenge

The Iraqi elections asserted the preeminence of the united Shia groups and put an end to the ambitions of a number of political claimants. The challenge now is to properly integrate the Sunna, writes Abbas Kadhim

The results of Iraqi elections confirmed the expectations of many observers. But they certainly surprised many participants with a reality they refused to accept for a long time: they have no connection with the people they claim to represent. The only group to deserve credit for admitting this fact is the Iraqi Communist Party. In reporting the results, their paper acknowledged that their main constituents voted along sectarian or ethnic lines -- the Kurds voted for the Kurdish list and the Shia for the United Iraqi Alliance.

Other parties were certainly hurt by the decision of many eligible voters to stay home. Had there been a large voter turnout in the provinces of Anbar, Salaheddin and Mosul, the final distribution of seats would be different. But given the multiplicity of the groups competing for these votes, the breakdown of shares would still be similar to the current outcome. Those who won one seat would end up with four or five seats; hardly enough to change the big picture.

The reason for this disappointing outcome for the Sunni Arabs is not related only to the low voter turnout among their constituents, although that played a major role. It also has to do with their lack of coherence.

Unlike the Kurds and the Shia, who ran in unified lists, the Sunni Arabs were fragmented. They did not overcome the syndrome of self-division in the new Iraq, where parties emerged like wild mushroom. The upshot of this phenomenon was that such parties ran on their own and ended up wasting the votes received.

More than 90 per cent of the political entities did not receive the minimum number of votes to gain one seat in the assembly. The Shia and the Kurds did indeed suffer from this fragmentation as well. In Kurdistan the two parties lost about a quarter of a million votes to other Kurdish entities that ran outside their unified list. This is certainly a very important challenge to the two Kurdish parties who must tone down their claim of monopoly over Kurdish politics.

The Shia were the main candidates for political disarray, because no other group in Iraq formed more parties in the new Iraq than they did. But it was the shrewdness of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al- Sistani that convened the largest parties and lumped them under one banner, the Iraqi Unified Alliance (UIA). Those who failed to join ended up with either very limited gains, or nothing. It remains to be seen whether the glue of the UIA will hold or it will be devastated by the impulses for inner rivalries and outside coercive and non-coercive incentives, when post-elections bargaining starts.

The number of votes harvested by each list also revealed that many parties were imposed on the political process on the basis of their unjustified claims to represent the people of Iraq, or their connections to the occupation. The Monarchy Movement presents a stark example of this sort of political players. For some time, they did indeed create a debate for a possibility of restoring the monarchy in Iraq. With less than 14,000 votes in favour of "the shadow of God on earth", this debate has been put to rest forever. Another stark reality was presented by the weak support for the current government. The president of Iraq received two per cent only. And the prime minister, in spite of the most sophisticated campaign -- or maybe thanks to that -- came in third place with 13 per cent of the vote.

The coming days will reveal the shape of government that is supposed to lead Iraq through the next year and, perhaps, set the stage for many years to come through the writing of the permanent constitution. There is one important fact in everyone's mind: for a successful political process to take place, no Iraqis can be excluded. Regardless of the reasons behind their under-representation, the Sunni Arabs must be given their fair share of decision-making power. But there is a superior principle that must be accommodated as well. In being gracious to the Sunni Arabs, the process has to respect the will of the voters. It would undermine the entire process if certain politicians, who failed to earn the trust of the people, are brought in through the backdoor. Such behaviour would send a message that political positions are entitlements and bribery devices, rather than meritorious accomplishments.

The best course of action to include the Sunnis and, at the same time, honour the will of the voters is to grant the fair share of positions to Sunnis who ran on the winning lists. Instead of appointing a Sunni who failed to receive more than two per cent of the votes, for a position on the Presidency Council, it is more reasonable to give the position to a Sunni from the list that won 50 per cent of the vote. Otherwise, there would be a new political equation with two per cent carrying more value than 50 per cent.

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