Mixed signal

There is good and bad news from Iraq’s parliamentary election. The bad news is that no single party or bloc has won a clear mandate from the electorate. No party has won enough seats to form a government on its own. The al-Iraqiyya bloc, which is led by former prime minister Iyad Allawi, has won the most seats - 91 in the 325-member parliament. But the incumbent, prime minister Nouri Maliki’s State of Law party is just two-seats behind. It is likely that his two-seat advantage will give Allawi opportunity to make the first stab at government formation.

He has a month to cobble together a coalition. Allawi’s return to power is not going to be easy. Maliki could still pip him at the post. He has threatened to challenge the verdict legally. Besides, reports suggest that he is trying to thwart Allawi’s chances of heading a coalition government by getting together with radical Shia cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr; so he can still claim to lead the biggest bloc in parliament. Soon after the last general election in 2005, sectarian violence erupted as politicians took months to form a government. The unclear verdict in the just-concluded election could trigger similar violence and political uncertainty.

The good news from the election is that secular forces have received a thumbs-up from the voters. Allawi, a Shia, campaigned on a secular plank. Most of his votes came from Sunni majority areas. His win by however small a margin provides hope that Iraq is slowly overcoming the deep sectarian divisions that came to the fore following the 2003 US invasion.

The US, which has promised to withdraw its troops by end 2011, will be probably use the election to claim that Iraq has been democratised. But holding elections alone does not make a democracy. Democracy involves political pluralism too. In the just-concluded elections scores of candidates with alleged links to Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party were not allowed to contest. The US and sections in Iraq might be uncomfortable with the Baath Party but whether they like it or not, it has support among some in Iraq. It does represent a significant section of opinion. Banning the party and not allowing it to contest indicates that Iraq’s democracy is hardly democratic or inclusive.

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