Sunnis in Elections
Change imminent and representation under Threat

April 16, 2018 at 11:02 pm

Baghdad, April 2014. Special voting of Police Forces of Iraqi parliament elections, three days in advance. Photo: Metrography Agency

Yaseen Taha

Many believe that the Sunni groups will be the power-brokers in the next Iraqi Council of Representatives in determining the candidate for premiership since the Kurds lost much of their sources of strength and political cards due to the Kurdish referendum’s consequences as well as the Shia political groups’ fragmentation in coalitions which are similar in terms of power and influence, yet distant in perspectives and orientations.

Sunni representatives and candidates envision the picture differently and have expressed their concerns about losing representation in their traditional areas of influence in light of the changes that took place in the political scene in the Sunni populated provinces retaken from the Islamic State (ISIS).

The Sunni groups have restlessly endeavored to postpone the May 12 elections through the parliament or outside the legislative body, but the Federal Court’s decision to oblige all sides to abide by constitutionally determined dates for the national elections eventually resolved the controversy over the timing of the elections.

Sunni groups’ efforts to postpone the electoral process came from their leaders’ fear of losing the right of representation as more than two million of their constituents are still in the displaced camps; despite of that the massive spread of weapons in their restored cities as well as the registration of Shia lists in the Sunni strongholds for the first time, such as Mosul, the largest Sunni city , where the city alone witnessed the registration of  five Shia or in one way or another pro-Shia lists for the first time according to the city’s MPs  amid assertions that the process of updating the voters’ records in Nineveh didn’t exceed %20. Such developments raise fears of low turnout and large scale fraud or practicing pressure to fill the gap, especially after the election commission suspended the process of updating voters’ registration records in the Nineveh province, under the pretext that it facilitates the process of receiving voter’s electronic cards and increase the pace of work procedures.

“Local residents complain of electoral pressures and threats from armed groups”

Under the pressure of the Sunni blocs and the United States, the Iraqi parliament, through the amendment of the elections’ law, has stipulated withdrawing of weapons from the retaken cities from ISIS as a condition to hold the elections, but some of the armed “Shia” factions continue to deploy in the retaken Sunni provinces. Meanwhile, local residents complain of electoral pressures and intimidations by the armed groups and the pressure mounted as the Salahadden Provincial Council’s appeals to the central government in Baghdad, in a statement, to intervene calling for an immediate end to the chaos of the spread of weapons and its impact on the elections in the province; all this show the magnitude of fear and the risks ahead Sunnis voters in their areas.

Meanwhile, the intra-Sunni traditional political groups struggle to maintain their presence in the elections, along with a remarkable skyrocket rise of emerging parties, entities and personalities who present themselves as new and alternative representatives to replace the old faces representing the Sunni Arab component amid growing skepticism about being backed by Shia groups.

The traditional Sunni Arab groups comprise of Osama Al-Nujaifi and his brother Atheel Al-Nujaifi, who has refrained from running for the elections who has already been denied the right to run in the elections by a judicial verdict issued against  him; Others include Khamis Al-Khanjar, the Arab project leader, who surprisingly withdrew from the election race in recent weeks, the Islamic Party with the  Muslim Brotherhood background as well as the Dialogue Front led by Salih al-Mutlaq along with various figures from the provinces of al-Anbar, Salahadden, Nineveh, Baghdad, Diyala and Kirkuk.

“Traditional Sunni groups monopolized Sunni Arab representation.”

Since 2003, the traditional Sunni groups have monopolized the Sunni Arab presentation; these groups have exclusively controlled all the positions allocated for the Sunni component based on  the consensus power-sharing quotas which currently organized themselves in two major electoral coalitions; “Al-Wataniya” is chaired  by the secular Shia leader Iyad Allawi in a repeated scene of the al-Iraqiyah List (2010), while the second coalition, “Iraqi Decision” is led by current Vice President Osama al-Nujaifi with other Sunni figures, including Khamis al-Khanjar, who leads the “Arab project” in Iraq who personally withdrew from the process based on what he put it as “technical reasons related to his obligations and busy engagements” as well as keeping his party in the competition.

The two traditional alliances are faced with various competitors in the majority Sunni populated provinces, such as al-Anbar and Salahadden; the new rivals control high ranking government offices which might assist them to influence the course of the elections by using government powers and influencing staff of election commission’s offices as well as the political money flow which raised the price of the electronic voting card in some Sunni provinces to about USD100, according to voters’ witnesses and the implicit recognition of senior officials, including the prime minister and the commission itself.

However, in addition to these traditional and newly emerged groups, a number of Sunni political figures have joined the alliance of prime minister Haider al-Abadi, namely the former defense minister Khalid al-Obeidi, who is viewed by many as al-Abadi’s gate to win a broad Sunni audience due to what the former has in term of supporters at the national level, despite his expulsion in the parliament with the support of the vice president Al-Maliki’s MPs.

“Family and tribal affiliation in Sunni areas remain the decisive factor in the elections.”

Traditional Sunni MPs and candidates complain that they may lose their constituents’ trust because their cities ravaged by war against the ISIS; they fear that the Sunni voters either no longer trust their traditional representatives in parliament or because their votes depend largely on their displacement camps’ management and funding parties or those who support them to return. However, other observers say they believe that whatever the changing factors may be, the clan and tribal polarization prevailing in the Sunni areas remains as the decisive factor determining the raising of a candidate in the absence of an inclusive Sunni political project for all parties, amid speculations of greater changes that may occur in the Sunni political representation map in the aftermath of the next parliamentary elections.

 

 

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