Although it may be too early to stage another Mission Accomplished photo-op, Iraq is headed towards democracy, as 62 per cent of the 18.9 million eligible voters were believed to have turned out to vote in the Iraqi national parliamentary elections this past Sunday. Despite several incidences of violence, the 2010 Iraqi election is being hailed as an overall success.
The March 7 election was Iraq’s fifth nationwide vote since the removal of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, but it was the second full four-year term parliamentary election.
Iraqis all over the world participated in the election, with voters in the United States, United Kingdom, Turkey, Iran and Canada casting early ballots this past Friday.
Over 6,000 candidates from 86 factions, identifiable by their respective Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish platforms, competed for power. Nuri al-Maliki, the current prime minister and leader of the State of Law Coalition political party, was reported to be ahead in the polls on Sunday. However, preliminary results will not be available until later this week. Final votes may take weeks to be tallied, and it could be months before a government is formally instituted due to the overall fragility of Iraqi politics.
Despite previous criticisms, al-Maliki is generally seen as an assertive yet co-operative leader who the U.S. can work with. While his cross-sectarian party is typically able to secure many Shia votes in the South, the Iraqi National Alliance is their biggest competition in the region. However, the popularity of the Iraqi National Alliance party has decreased recently with reports of close ties to Iran.
This election proved to be less divided by distinct political blocs than previous ones. Iraqis were able to vote for individual candidates as opposed to only political parties, which often represent unified political and religious interests. The greater variety in vote choice is due to the implementation of an open list ballot system where voters were presented with the option of selecting an individual candidate or a specific political party. Conversely, in the 2005 national election, Iraqis could only vote for a particular political bloc as the names of party leaders were hidden to prevent assassination attempts.
Even with the dozens of attacks and 38 fatalities arising from this election, Iraq is noticeably less violent than it was a few years ago. The presence of American troops has decreased and much of the country is now relatively safe. The Obama administration plans to withdraw all American soldiers by the end of the summer, but will leave 50,000 American officials to oversee government operations until 2011.
The world, especially the U.S., is closely following this parliamentary vote, as they view it as a test of Iraq’s newfound democracy and a defining moment in Middle Eastern history.