Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Elections in Iraq and Lebanon: Results and Implications

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Elections in Iraq and Lebanon: Results and Implications

Article excerpt

The process of government formation is now underway in Lebanon and Iraq, after citizens of the two countries went to the polls in May to participate in what experts have described as peaceful and fair elections.

To offer feedback and perspective on the elections, the Middle East Institute (MEI) held an event in Washington, DC on May 15 titled "A Tale of Two Elections: Recapping the Polls in Lebanon and Iraq."

The Sairoon (On the Move) Alliance, formed by Shi'i cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the Iraqi Communist Party, were the clear victors of Iraq's May 12 election, taking 54 out of 329 parliamentary seats, according to preliminary results. The alliance is now in a favorable position to assemble the parliamentary bloc that will form the next government and determine the next prime minister.

Al-Sadr's victory is not an indication of a sectarian split in Iraq, said Abbas Kadhim, president of the Institute of Shi'a Studies. He noted that al-Sadr's path to electoral success included outreach to both Sunnis and liberals, as well as benefiting from the long-standing trust of many Iraqi Shi'i.

"Sadr took a great risk and it worked," Kadhim said. "Thanks to the solid loyalty of his followers, he did not lose votes by allying himself with the communists and an assortment of other liberals-and also some Sunnis whose record is not very popular with Shi'i populations."

Al-Sadr is a critic of both U.S. and Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.

In another sign of improved sectarian relations, Kadhim noted that current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi became the first Shi'i prime minster to carry a Sunni-majority province (Nineveh). "That is a very good reason to give hope that Iraqis are right now reaching across the sectarian divide and trusting each other," he commented. Al- Abadi's Al-Nasr Alliance underperformed nationally, however, securing 39 seats.

Kadhimalso commended al-Abadi for giving a concession speech and congratulating al-Sadr via phone, saying such cordiality and respect for electoral outcomes is a healthy sign for Iraq's developing democracy.

Despite al-Abadi having overseen the collapse of ISIS during his prime ministership, Kadhim said many Iraqis were nonetheless disappointed in his failure to make progress on economic and governance issues. These grievances, coupled with the fact that many Iraqis credit the defeat of ISIS to Iranian-backed militias, likely explain the prime minister's disappointing electoral performance, Kadhim said, as well as a lower than expected voter turnout.

Omar al-Nidawi, Iraq director at Gryphon Partners, cited a May 14 al-Sadr tweet as an indication that the cleric seeks to form a broad governing coalition. …

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