Lebanese Broadcasting Co.'s satellite television news is reporting that the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), comprising Shiite religious parties, has won an absolute majority (141 seats) after adjustments were made in accordance with electoral procedure. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the list leader, expressed his pleasure at this 51 percent outcome for his coalition. The UIA still needs a 2/3s majority, and therefore a coalition partner or partners, to form a government (which involves electing a president and two vice-presidents, who will appoint a prime minister). But it can now win votes on procedure and legislation without needing any other partner.
Robin Wright of the Washington Post points out that an electoral victory of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Dawa Party, both of them close to Tehran, is not what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Neoconservatives had been going for with this Iraq adventure. The United Iraqi Alliance is led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite cleric who lived over 2 decades in exile in Iran. I point out that the likely coalition partner of the United Iraqi Alliance is the Kurdistan Alliance, led by Jalal Talabani, who is himself very close to Tehran. So there are likely to be warm Baghdad-Tehran relations.
Likewise, it is worth pointing out that the new Shiite government in Baghdad will support the Lebanese Shiites, including Hezbollah.
One of the Neoconservatives' goals had been the installation of a pro-Israel government in Baghdad. But at Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution rallies and Friday prayers services, crowds have been known to chant "Death to Israel!"
Stanley Reed of Business Week points out that a UIA-dominated Iraq is likely to move toward implementation of Islamic law, even if not toward clerical rule. One question is whether the Dawa Party tradition of thinking about economics, exemplified in the Our Economy of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (d. 1980), will be implemented versus Washington's laissez-faire dreams. In any case, most movements of political Islam have been interested in implementing Islamic law, not in clerical rule. That was the program in the Sudan, for instance, and is what the United Action Council (mainly the Jama'at-i Islami) is going for in the Northwest Frontier Province in Pakistan. This direction seems to be the one Iraq is now taking.
The chorus from people like Senator Frisk that the failure of the United Iraqi Alliance (the Shiite religious parties) to gain 51 percent would require them to compromise and may benefit Iyad Allawi was nonsensical even on Sunday, and is now shown to be entirely untrue.
The UIA has in the end received 51 percent of seats in parliament, because of the electoral method being used, which added percentages from parties that did not quite pass the threshold for being seated to the parties that did, in a sort of second round. Second, the UIA may still be able to pick up some allies from small Shiite parties that ran separately but have similar goals (they are more theocratic than the UIA)-- which suggests that they may actually have 52 or 53 percent.
Allawi is irrelevant, since it is easier and more of a sure thing for the UIA to ally with the Kurds, who bring another 24 percent (more, now) into the coalition. They do not need to throw Allawi a bone to get the Kurds, they need to throw the Kurds some bones.
So Allawi is out of the running, at least if parliamentary politics is the game being played here. Were the Kurds to prove too intransigent, I suppose the UIA could try to cobble together 66 percent with Allawi and several tiny parties like the Communists. But they would still be unlikely to give away the prime minister post.
The election system is one with which I was unfamiliar, and helpful readers have been sending me resources that I will share here. The UN explains that
How many votes are needed to win a seat?
* The number of votes required to gain a seat (the natural threshold) will be determined by the number of total valid votes cast . A maximum estimation of 14,270,000 valid votes would create an initial threshold of 51,891 votes to gain a seat; 10 million votes would require 36,363 votes; and, 5 million votes would require 18,181 votes.
* The chosen electoral formula (the Hare formula) proceeds after the natural threshold calculation based on the “largest remainder”. In effect, this means that subsequent seats (for lists that pass the natural threshold) cost fewer votes.
Reader Dan Keshet recommends the following sites for understanding the system:
* Hare Quota
* Remainder Method
I understand that the threshold here was about 33,000 votes in the first round.
Andrew Arato writes, "sec 3 art 6 of the electoral law defines a natural Threshold for parties to get seats, which is the total vote divided by 275. This means that not only small parties lose their votes, but the remainders of larger parties too are thrown into a pot that is then redivided according to the adjusted original percentages. Some of this is not in the original law, but probably in subsequent regulations . . "
Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan.
© 2005 Juan Cole