The coalition of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki was moving ahead of the rival coalition of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in vote counting in the recent parliamentary elections.
Final results are not expected for several days, but no one faction is expected to win an outright majority of seats in the 325-member parliament.
Talks on forming a new coalition government could take months, posing huge political challenges for Iraq’s lawmakers.
“Everyone needs the other,” according to Hiwa Osman, Kurdish journalist and Iraq country director for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
“The issue here is how to strike a balance between the various blocs – on one hand, the ethnic and sectarian compositions of Iraq and, on the other hand, the balance of power that guarantees a comfortable majority in Parliament,” says Osman.
The Kurdish dominated northern part of Iraq shows how political balance is critical to the country’s stability. Kurds in the three northern provinces voted overwhelming in favor of the Kurdistan Alliance, the main Kurdish coalition. They are not committed to a victory by either of the major Shi’a Arab parties – Prime Minister al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance or the party of Allawi, his principal secular rival.
“They are waiting to see both sides’ political programs and how they will affect Kurdish issues – such as Kirkuk and revenue-sharing between the Kurdistan region and Baghdad,” says Osman.
With election results clearly indicating the need for coalition building, the jockeying for power is already underway, according to Laith Kubba, director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Endowment for Democracy.
A former senior advisor to former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and spokesman for the Iraqi government, Kubba says both the Kurdish bloc and the followers of the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will likely represent a serious political force within any successful coalition.
“There will be a lot of flexibility and a lot of frustration,” Kubba explains. But, as is the nature of a democracy, Kubba says that’s a good thing.
“That is what politics is actually all about,” Kubba says, “if people can learn the art of making compromises.”
Kubba says while Iraq needs a strong leadership, and that a speedy process would be preferable, a slower pace may have its benefits. Nadia Bilbassy, senior correspondent with Middle East Broadcasting Center, agrees.
“A king maker will emerge because neither party, whether it is al-Maliki’s coalition or Allawi’s coalition will be able to form a government without having many other groups joining them,” Bilbassy says. “It actually shows a very sophisticated democratic process that we have not seen in the rest of the Arab world,” she adds.
“It might take months before a government can emerge,” Bilbassy says. But she does not think the outcome will be decided by violence.
The political process in Iraq will be “complicated,” says Bilbassy, by the different groups vying for power.
There is no doubt, she stressed, that the Kurds with play a “vital role in terms of who will give them the best deal.” Bilbassy also predicts the Sadrists are likely to play an important role, as are the Sunnis.
“I think Iyad Allawi has the largest number of Sunnis, and ultimately their participation will be important for the stability of Iraq,” says Bilbassy. That means, she says, it is likely to be intriguing to watch how the game of political chess unfolds in the new government.