On December 15, Iraqi voters will cast their ballots for the third time in the course of one year, to elect 275 members of the National Assembly under a new constitution which was approved in a national referendum on October 15. If no unforeseen circumstances arise, and if the Sunnis vote in large numbers this time as they have appeared determined to do since boycotting the first elections on January 30, the number of voters is likely to establish a new record, notwithstanding the threats of insurgency and terrorism. If the Iraqis have learned anything from their two previous voting experiences, it is that their votes count and that fraud and other forms of voting irregularities will be held to a minimum. But there is also a degree of disenchantment resulting from the failure of the present government to deliver on many of its promises, particularly regarding the security and economic issues.
The Competing Political Forces
The Iraqi voter will confront approximately 228 choices competing for his/her single vote. These are not political parties, per se; these are political entities or political groupings consisting of lists of small groups of people, or fairly large alliances. There are 21 major alliances or coalitions representing in excess of 100 political groupings around one or more individuals. In addition, there are another 207 lists of various combinations of personalities. The bigger alliances comprise anywhere from two political entities (kiyan siyasi) to as many as 17 entities. Another 27 entities or alliances have withdrawn, and others are in the process of doing so.
The Elections Board has given each approved alliance or every list of candidates an electoral identification number, beginning with 501. The identification numbers were selected by the Elections Board through a lottery system conducted in the presence of representatives of the various candidates, as well as of the elections advisers from the United Nations. These numbers will help semi-literate or even illiterate voters to vote, often with prior instructions from their political or tribal leaders.
Barring a last minute surprise, about five of the 21 alliances will likely emerge with a lion's share of the parliamentary seats:
The First Alliance. No. 555, al-i'tilaf al-iraqi -muwwahad (the Iraqi National Alliance), comprises 17 entities, including the two major Shi'ite political parties which earned the largest number of seats in the January 30 elections. Among the significant entities in this alliance is the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), whose leader, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, is the number one on the alliance's slate, and the Da'wa Party of current Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, who is next on the slate, followed in the third place by Muna Zalzala of the Badr Organization. Other significant components of the alliance are the Sadrist Movement of the young Shi'ite radical Muqtada al-Sadr and the militia associated with SCIRI, the Badr militia (listed in the alliance as a group rather than militia). Absent from the alliance is Dr. Ahmad Chalabi, the deputy prime minister (see under No. #569) a central component of the alliance in the previous elections, the Virtue Party (hizb al-fadhila) has indicated its intention, according to its secretary-general, Nadim al-Jaberi, of withdrawing from this alliance.
In the previous elections, this alliance received the blessings of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In the forthcoming elections, the alliance will not be so "blessed." Al-Sistani, through his representative, Sheikh Abd al-Hadi al-Karbala'i, has announced that he will not support any alliance or political entity, but he urged the Iraqi people to vote in the elections. Al-Sistani's position reflects an agreement among the four Grand Ayatollahs - namely, al-Sistani, Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim, Bashir al-Najafi, and Muhammed Ishaq al-Fayadth - to eschew political intervention in the future. Al-Sistani has also directed his immediate aides not to run for elections and, unlike the ayatollahs of Iran, he has deliberately distanced himself from the political process. The fact that three of the four Grand Ayatollahs (other than al-Hakim) are foreign born may have weighed heavily in their decision to remain, at least publicly, on the sidelines.
Al-Sistani Withholding his Support From the Alliance
With the ayotollahs withholding their endorsement, with growing disenchantment -even on the part of al-Sistani - with the performance of Dr. Ibrahim al-Ja'fari as prime minister, and with the emergence of a unified Sunni alliance, the predominantly Shi'ite Iraqi National Alliance is likely to do less well than in the previous elections. The alliance is also increasingly being seen as loyal to Iran, and as turning a blind eye to the growing presence of Iranian intelligence in the southern provinces of Iraq, particularly in Basra, the second largest Iraqi city.
Indeed, upon al-Sistani's withholding of his support, Iran rushed in to voice its support for the Shi'ite alliance. Secular Iraqis, including many residents of that city, are alarmed by the actions of militant pro-Iranian organizations such as "thaar Allah," or "Allah's Revenge," which have been engaging in large-scale political intimidation or even liquidation of opponents to the Islamist way of life.
Concession to Muqtada al-Sadr
To bring in Muqtada al-Sadr's movement, the Shi'ite alliance has offered the movement 30 seats (about one-quarter of the seats they expect to win). This concession reflects the growing realization that al-Sadr's popularity among young Shi'ite voters is on the rise and could, rather soon, overshadow the traditional religious establishment in Najaf, presided over by Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani.
In agreeing to join the Shi'ite alliance, al-Sadr made a number of demands, all of which were accepted:
(a) The Sadrist movement shall be allocated the same number of seats as allocated to SCIRI;
(b) The building of Iraqi armed forces shall be accelerated in order to expedite the exit of the multinational forces; and
(c) There shall be no normalization with the "Zionist entity" under any circumstances.
The mercurial al-Sadr has not given his public support to the alliance; rather, he has advanced the faint argument that his supporters have joined the alliance in their personal capacity. His spokesman, Sheikh Mustapha al-Ya'qubi, declared that "al-Sayyid Muqtada" will announce "next week" his official position regarding the elections.
Dr. Ahmad al-Chalabi, who was the architect behind the Shi'ite list in the previous elections, was offered three seats in the next elections. He found the offer highly unsatisfactory, and opted to form his own alliance (No. 569).
The Second Alliance. No. 569, qa’imat al-mu’tamar al-watani al-iraqi (National Congress Party) comprises 10 entities of a liberal and secular orientation, representing Shi'a, Sunni and Turkmen. This alliance is the creation of Dr. Ahmad al-Chalabi and includes his own old party, the National Congress Party, the Iraqi Constitutional Movement of al-Sherif Ali bin Al-Hussein who is a claimant of the Iraqi throne, Minister of Justice Abd al-Hussein Shandal, and former head of the Turkmen front Faruq Abdullah.
Ironically, al-Chalabi is estranged from the Shi'ite-oriented Iraqi National Alliance (No. 555), which he is presently representing in the cabinet as deputy prime minister. Interviewed on al-Jazeera TV about the reasons for the split from the United Iraqi Alliance, al-Chalabi said that the United Iraqi Alliance had adopted "an Islamist stance which is not compatible with the views of the people" he represented. Answering another question, al-Chalabi said, "Now that the constitution has been approved, praise be to God, it is obvious that there is a need for a list that represents a large cross-section of Iraqi people who are faithful Muslims and who also believe in a democratic, pluralistic, and federal system of government."
It is not clear how al-Chalabi's estrangement from the Iraqi National Alliance will bear on his chances to become prime minister. It may have adverse effects. It is also possible that al-Chalabi, who is on good terms with both Al-Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr, would hope to be elected independently of the major Shi'ite slate in order that he might be able, after the elections, to split the Shi'ite alliance and, with the help of other groups, including the Sunnis, the Kurds and other secular elements in the National Assembly, to emerge as a viable candidate for the prime minister post. On his way to the U.S. during the week of November 7, Dr. al-Chalabi held meetings with senior Iranian officials, including the president of Iran. Fearing the rise in popularity of Dr. Ayad Allawi (No. 731), Iran has endorsed Dr. al-Chalabi as prime minister. It is yet to be seen if such endorsement may not be counterproductive for Dr. al-Chalabi's prospects.
The Third Alliance. No. 618, jabhat al-tawafeq al-iraqiyya (The Iraqi Accord Front), the main Sunni alliance, comprises the three key Sunni entities, namely "The Iraqi Islamic Party," under its secretary-general, Tariq al-Hashemi, "The National Dialogue Council" under Khalaf al-‘Alyan, and "The General Congress of the Iraqi People" whose head, Dr. Adnan Muhammad Salman al-Duleimi, heads this alliance. This alliance includes many chiefs of Sunni tribes, such as Bani Malek, al-Jabbour and al-Sawa'id.
Al-Duleimi has said that there have been pressures on the Sunnis to participate in the elections en masse and to discard the insurgency option in favor of political participation. With the help of fatwas issued by Sunni clerics, he is urging the Sunnis not to repeat the mistake of boycotting the first elections, which resulted in the political marginalization of the Sunnis. If the projections of a massive Sunni participation in the elections materialize, they are likely to emerge as the second largest body in the National Assembly.
The Fourth Alliance. No. 730, al-tahaluf al-kurdistani (The Kurdish Alliance), comprises eight entities, including the two major Kurdish political parties -"The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan" (PUK) of Jalal Talabani, the current president of Iraq, and the "Kurdistan Democratic Party" of Mas'oud Barazani, the president of the Kurdistan Region. Among the other entities in the Kurdish alliance are the Kurdistan Communist Party, and groups representing Turkmen and Christians (the latter have the largest concentration in Iraqi Kurdistan).
The Kurdish alliance stands to lose some seats, even if they obtain the same number of votes as in the last elections. First, in the absence of the Sunni vote in the previous elections, the Kurdish vote counted for a larger percentage of the total number of votes cast. With the Sunnis factored in, the percentage of the Kurdish vote will inevitably be smaller. Second, "The Islamic Kurdish Union," which was part of the Kurdish alliance in January elections, is running its own slate in these elections, and could drain some votes from the Kurdish alliance.
The Fifth Alliance. No. 731, al-qa’ima al-iraqiyyah al-wataniyah (The Iraqi National List), comprises 15 entities. This alliance is headed by former interim prime minister Dr. Ayad Allawi, and it includes well-known secular and non-sectarian political figures, both Shi'ite and Sunni, such as Ghazi al-Yawer, the Sunni vice president of Iraq; Hajim al-Hasani, the Sunni speaker of the National Assembly; Hamid Majid Moussa, the secretary-general of the Communist Party; Adnan al-Pachachi, the venerable Sunni Iraqi statesman; Sa'doun al-Duleimi, the minister of defense (Sunni); and former foreign minister and Shi'ite Sayyid Ayad Jamal al-Din, one of Iraq's most liberal and secular voices. The alliance also includes many leaders of the women's movement, including Fasia al-Suhail, the designated Iraqi ambassador to Egypt.
One member of this alliance is Dr. Ayham al-Samara'i, a former minister of power in the Allawi government. In an interview with the Iraq daily al-Zaman, al-Samara'i maintains that, as the secretary-general of the National Council for the Unity and Construction of Iraq (al-majlis al-watani li-wihdat wa-bina al-iraq), he was negotiating with 11 different insurgency groups to form a national front to "politicize" the insurgency and bring it into the political process.
The Remaining Alliances
The remaining alliances are made up of mainly unknown entities which may lack the resources to campaign effectively and, by our estimates, will not do well in the forthcoming elections. The fact, however, that they can register and place candidates in the elections is a good indication of the competitive nature of the emerging Iraqi political process and the concomitant growth of the political culture in Iraq despite relentless violence by insurgents and terrorists.
The Distribution of Seats in the Next National Assembly
The system adopted for the December 15 elections is more complicated and bound to be, perhaps, more controversial than the system adopted for the elections in January.
In January, the election system was based on a strict proportional representation, with Iraq serving as one electoral district. Seats were subsequently distributed among the competing groups in proportion to the number of votes each group received in the elections.
For the elections in December, there will be two groups of parliamentary seats for a total of 275 seats - the major group of 230 seats are referred to as the Seats of the National Assembly (maqa’id majlis al-nuwwab) and the remaining 45 seats are referred to as the compensatory seats (al-maqa’id al-ta’widhiyah). The 230 seats are distributed to the provinces based on the number of registered voters in the January elections: Baghdad (59), Naynawa (19), Basra (16), Suleymaniya (15), Erbil (13), Dhi Qar (12), Babel (11); Dyala (10); Anbar and Kirkuk (9) each; Wassit, Salah al-Din, Qadisiyya and Najaf (8) each; Dhouk and Misan (7) each; Karbala (6); and Muthanna (5).
This formula was arrived at through two arithmetic steps. At the national level, the total number of votes registered in the January elections was divided by the total number of parliamentary seats (i.e. 275). The quotient of approximately 50,000 represents the national average per seat (the Election Board refers to it as the National Quota).
At the next step, the number of seats allocated to each province is divided by the number of votes registered in the January elections in that province. The quotient could vary from a high of 50,000 in Baghdad to the mid-30,000s in the province of Dyala.
While all slates will compete nationally, under the new system each candidate, whether running as an individual or as a member of an alliance, must declare his/her candidacy in one of the 18 provinces. A large alliance, such as the Iraqi National Alliance, will place different candidates in different provinces, with their leaders placed on top of the slates in provinces where they expect a major turnout in their favor ("safe districts" in American or British parlance). For example, the Iraqi National Alliance placed slates of SCIRI candidates in three of its potentially strong provinces and slates of Muqtada al-Sadr supporters in another three provinces, including the religiously significant province of Najaf. By contrast, an individual or a small alliance might place their efforts in one province to maximize the number of votes cast in their favor.
The 45 Compensatory Seats:
The system is designed to provide a sort of "second chance" for slates or individuals who are unable to accrue enough votes within the province where they declared their candidacy to earn a parliamentary seat. Even if a slate does not receive enough votes in terms of the provincial quotient to qualify for a seat in a province, the total number of votes cast for that slate nationwide may be sufficient to make the slate eligible for a seat.
There are some other configurations that could give preference to women if their number on a slate falls below the required one-third.
In the event that not all the compensatory seats are allocated in the first round, a special formula will be used to distribute the rest of the seats based on a combination of national and provincial votes.
In other words, every vote cast in any of the 18 provinces matters.
Difficulties with Voting
In addition to the voters' difficulty of making a choice among the large roster of candidates, there is the administrative difficulty of determining the roster of voters. The Iraqi Elections Board uses ration cards (al-bitaqat al-tamwiniyah), for lack of other reliable instruments, as the basis of preparing the list of voters. Each Iraqi has a ration card which entitles him/her to food rations at subsidized prices. However, these cards were issued in the early 1990s and many of the cardholders are no longer alive. Also, it was common for the Saddam regime to issue extra ration cards to their loyalists while denying them to their enemies. Moreover, some people may have moved to new locations and, given the security situation, may find it difficult -if not impossible -to vote in the designated electoral district.
The Elections Board estimates that there are1.2 million expatriate Iraqis who are eligible to vote. Facilities will be available in 20 countries for those expatriates desirous of voting. These countries are likely to be: Australia, Canada, Germany, Iran, Jordan, The Netherlands, Syria, Turkey, the U.A.E., the U.S., Sweden, the U.K., Kuwait, Yemen, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Libya, Egypt, and Lebanon. Of these 20 countries, Libya, in which 45,000 expatriate Iraqis reside, may not authorize elections on its soil.
In the previous elections, a mere 265,000 expatriates voted, partly because of the requirement that the expatriate must first register and then vote a week later. For those who had to travel, this requirement was quite restrictive. In the coming elections, one visit to the ballot box will suffice.
*Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli is Senior Analyst of MEMRI's Middle East Economic Studies Program.
 Al-Mada (Iraq), October 29, 2005.
 Al-Sabah (Iraq), October 29, 2005.
 Al-Hayat (London), October 29, 2005.
 Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), November 2, 2005.
 Al-Hayat (London), October 29, 2005.
 Al-Hayat (London), October 31, 2005.
 Al-Hayat (London), October 28, 2005.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 7, 2005.
 Al-Mada (Iraq), October 29, 2005.
 Al-Hayat of October 30, 2005 discusses some of the political options after the elections.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 8, 2005.
 Al-Sabah (Iraq), November 1, 2005.
 Al-Zaman (Iraq), October 30, 2005.
 Information on the election system was gathered by phone from two candidates in Baghdad.
 Al-Zaman (Iraq), October 31, 2005.
 Al-Sabah (Iraq), October 30 and October 31, 2005.