It will evidently take several weeks until there is a clear result from the Iraqi National Assembly elections yesterday.
What we know so far is that they were conducted orderly, that turn-out to vote seemed high and that it was a calm day throughout the country.
And all of that is certainly good news.
It was a true election. There were 7 605 candidates on the lists of the 307 parties or individual lists that were presented.
The election system was in fact very similar to the one used in Sweden. Out of the 275 seats in the Assembly, 230 are elected directly on lists from the 18 different provinces, while the remaining 45 are used to make the overall result as close to proportional as possible.
In political terms the critical issue is how the election went in the four provinces of Anbar, Salahuddin, Nineveh and Diyala which have 45 % of the population and were most of the violence occurs. It’s here that one encounters the sharp encounter between Sunni pessimism over the future and somewhat more of Shia confidence.
In itself, the election will do little to overcome this.
Overall, the best election result would be a substantial weakening of the Shiite religious coalition that received 48 percent of the vote in January’s election and has dominated the interim government.
Its leading party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is closely linked to Iran; with Iranian encouragement, it is pressing to create a nine-province Shiite ”region” in the south of Iraq. With its own constitution and security forces, this ministate would be uled by clerics and would control Iraq’s largest oil fields. Meanwhile, the Supreme Council’s leadership threatens conflict to wipe out Sunni resistance in Baghdad and western Iraq. According to media reports, it is using its control of the Interior Ministry to set up torture chambers and death squads staffed by its own militia.
It is highly likely that the US and others will see to promote the setting up of a more broadly based government that includes substantial Sunni elements as well as the Kurdish parties.
And it’s then that one would be able to judge if the political process is truly moving forward. The key will be how a government is formed and how it starts to tackle the major issues.
This will not be an easy process. First there has to be an agreement encompassing thwo-thirds of the members of the assembly on a Presidential Council, and when this is in place it has to task of nominating a Prime Minister. And in the government there is certain to be a hard battle over the key positions.
And then comes all the challenges of substance. Some of them are outlined in the linked article by the US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.
It’s worth noting that he stresses not only the security challenges, but also those in the economic area. So far very little has been done to move Iraq away from the heavy subsidies and thus de facto state control that was the core of the Saddam control of the economy and thus society of Iraq.
I’m fairly certain that the Constitution will be one of the most difficult issues. It was a very quick deal that was done earlier this year, and it did not resolve some of the most critical issues on the governance of the future. This has to be sorted out.
In a last-minute deal in order to prevent the Constitution from being rejected by the referendum, a review process was promised. The Assembly will form a committee that within four months should present a report with possible changes, and if these are approved by a single majority in the Assembly, they will within a month go to a new referendum.
In this, the changes will be approved if not rejected by two thirds majority in three of the 18 provinces.
This will – no doubt – be highly controversial. And highly important. It will not be easy to get both the Shias and the Kurds to back down even marginally from the substantial gains they made with the Constitution.
But for all the very major challenges that lie ahead, what gives hope is that there now seems to be something that could be the beginning of the emergence of a somewhat more inclusive political process in which nearly everyone takes part.
The optimist could describe that as a slowly emerging democracy.