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2009 Local Elections

Under the new constitution, national elections were held on December 15, 2005, to select members of Iraq's first permanent legislature. This time, Iraq was divided into electoral districts by province, although the party-list system remained in force. Sunni participation in the elections brought some balance to the distribution of power in the National Assembly, but elections for local and provincial offices were postponed repeatedly, perpetuating the Shi'a over-representation on provincial councils. The failure to hold provincial elections complicated reconstruction efforts at the local level. Who held government office did not necessarily reflect who held power in the province. As a result, provincial elections remained a political grievance held by almost all non-Shi'a parties, as well as those Shi'a parties not aligned with the ruling coalition.

Three years would pass before the issue was resolved. Provincial elections planned for September 2006 were postponed until March 2007 after the Shi'a majority parliament failed to appoint an electoral commission and draft election bylaws. Soon another delay was announced, putting off still further the prospect of a democratic rebalancing of Iraq's provincial and local governments. Throughout 2007, parliament refused even to consider implementing legislation on provincial powers. A law eventually passed in February 2008 but was then vetoed by the Presidency Council. Although the veto was later rescinded, the law would not come into effect until a law on national elections was fashioned. On September 24, 2008, the Provincial Election Law was finally passed, mandating national elections before January 31, 2009.

The long delay in holding competitive local elections left political conflicts simmering across the country, complicating efforts of reconstruction personnel to work at the local level. Despite the approval of the new constitution and the seating of an elected national parliament, the organization of Iraq's local governments, as specified in CPA Order 71, was by now a poor guide to who actually wielded control. In the absence of a clear legal framework, power fell to those best positioned to seize it, both inside and outside institutions of government. The resulting breakdown between the central government and provincial councils - and in turn between the provincial governments and neighborhood and district councils - crippled the administration of public services the U.S. reconstruction program was trying to rebuild.

On January 31, 2009, Iraq held elections for provincial councils in all provinces except for the three provinces comprising the Kurdistan Regional Government and Kirkuk (al-Tamim) province. Few had as much to gain or lose from the provincial elections as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, whose party was battling rivals across Iraq. Iraqis cast votes that signalled how much power Maliki, an increasingly authoritarian leader, could command. Maliki tried to reassure Iraqis that he was a strong leader who would also respect local interests. Many Iraqi politicians - even some onetime allies - do not believe him. They feared a return to the sway of a single leader, arbitrary and blood-thirsty, with power concentrated in Baghdad. Maliki's critics had been rattled by his efforts to control the armed forces more directly, a reminder of the days when Saddam Hussein personally controlled a number of special security forces loyal only to him. Maliki reshuffled military commanders and created two handpicked military forces that report primarily to him as the commander in chief rather than to the Interior or Defense Ministries. He also created tribal councils across the country that are directly linked to his office, which critics feared are stalking-horses to extend the reach of his Dawa Party and make gains in the provincial elections at the expense of his rivals.

Provincial elections were a key step tomaintaining Sunni Arab engagemen. Sunni Arabs widely boycotted the 2005 provincial elections and as a result were under-represented in many provinces, including Ninawa,Diyala and Salah ad Din. Following the largely credible and legitimate provincial elections in January 2009, Sunni Arabs achieved a more equitable political representation. Results generally reflected the provincial ethno-sectarian demographics. Sunnis may tolerate somepolitical setbacks provided they see improvements in their living conditions.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:48:00 ZULU