I was a candidate!
Nermeen Al-Mufti gives an insider's look at the election
The question wasn't long coming. "Nermeen Al-Mufti, the most daring pen writing against the occupation and the situation in Iraq, what happened that made you become a candidate?" The presenter on Al-Baghdadiya television asked.
I was ready with the answer. "Seven long years of occupation, including four years under an elected government, gave me enough reason to run for office. I want to make it clear that those who opposed the occupation, those who opposed the men who rode atop the tanks of occupation, and those who had remained distant from the political scene, have all contributed to the current fate of Iraq."
There is no denying it. Those who demand change must do something about it. I wasn't the only one among the candidates to act out of this belief. Dozens of university professors, artists, journalists, and human rights activists did the same. We ran on various platforms, hoping to attract the votes of the intelligentsia, the expatriates, and the displaced.
From the first day of the election campaign, well-funded candidates, parliamentarians and those who have the backing of big parties, covered Baghdad with their oversized posters. Some of the posters stood on metal columns after the Baghdad Secretariat banned the sticking of posters on walls and on concrete barriers as well. The electricity department also prevented candidates from posting their advertisements on its polls.
But those who could afford still managed to fill the streets with their faces and slogans. Former deputies who never opened their mouths during previous terms were emphatic in their advertising.
How could I get people to vote for me? I went to a gathering held in a coffeehouse by an engineering student at Mostansiriya University. He asked me, "How do we know that you're for real, not just running for office because of its perks?"
I said that he could trust me because of my record. But that wasn't enough. After seven years of chaos and following decades of political persecution, people are sceptical. I found it even harder to get the intellectuals to vote for me. Most wanted change, and yet boycotted the elections.
I knew that running for office would be risky in a country where elections are marred by deception and intimidation, let alone the bizarre. I knew that change cannot happen without the right people in office.
Some of the candidate sold their house to run for elections. According to a television report, a woman is said to have sold all her jewellery and household items to run for office, and said that if she lost she'd file for divorce.
Many posters of beautiful women suddenly lined the streets. When they were later interviewed and their real pictures posted on the internet, it turned out that they were not attractive at all. The posters were the product of Photoshop.
Someone told me that some parties were using beautiful women candidates to attract the votes of young men. A television station mentioned that one woman candidate posted veiled pictures of herself in certain areas and unveiled pictures in other areas.
While the new candidates, myself included, toured neighbourhoods in small private automobiles with no security protection, well-funded candidates moved around in 4WD cars with security escort.
Many candidates regarded parliamentary membership as a good investment. One former parliamentary member managed to obtain an ambassador's job, run a civil society group, and run for a position in a sports association during his recent term. As if that weren't enough, he ran again this time.
We who have opposed the occupation and criticised the political situation had to struggle for change. Still, we lost. We failed to get the votes of the very intellectuals who demand change. The expatriates didn't vote for us either. Some said they were puzzled that we ran for office. Others asked us if we had sold out.
The head of every list, including the Iraqi List on which I ran, tried to focus attention on a limited number of candidates, as if he wanted the voters to cast their ballots for those particular candidates.
The polling day, 7 March, started with mortar and home-made bomb attacks. The explosions didn't last long and millions went to the polling stations to vote.
Candidates such as myself had a slight chance, but we took it anyway. The 325 parliamentary members were chosen from among more than 6,100 candidates all over Iraq.
Iraqi women, running for a quota of 25 per cent of the seats, fought the battle with courage. Some women candidates got more votes than men. The voters of Nineveh, Salaheddin, Diyala, and Al-Kut were able to refute the myth of disputed areas. The number of Kurdish votes dropped to one-quarter in Nineveh. No Kurdish candidates won in Salahelddin and Al-Kut. The Kurds are likely to win only a seat or two in Diyala.
At the time of writing, the Iraqi List is ahead in Karkuk. The Iraqi Turkmen Front went into alliance with the Iraqi List in the hope of increasing the number of Turkmen deputies.
There is hope in Iraq. There is hope that change could happen, that normalcy could be restored, and that sectarian quotas would be lifted. These quotas have brought nothing but trouble to the country. And we have escaped civil war only by the scruff of our necks.
Sectarian and factional influences haven't disappeared yet. And the traumas left by the quota system are still visible. But things are somewhat better than they were in 2005.
Some people who were fixtures on the political scene have faded away. And lists that promised the moon didn't make it in the polls. One is the Coalition for United Iraq, led by current Interior Minister Jawad Al-Bulani. Another is the Liberals List led by Iyad Jamaleddin. Flashy, high-profile campaigns didn't always guarantee victory.