Democracy is Facing Legitimacy Shortage and Political Crisis

In May 12, 2018, Iraqis cast their votes in the fourth parliamentary elections since 2003, the first one after the defeat of ISIS in the northern and western regions of the country. The elections took place despite the popular rejection of both the electoral law and the “Independent” High Electoral Commission. The latter was denounced because it was formed on the basis of partisan quotas, and therefore it was not actually independent. The former because of the system of counting the votes and sorting the seats, which the dominant political parties insisted on adopting irrespective of the wide criticism.

In addition, a lot of infringements occurred at the polls in Sulaymaniyah (Kurdistan region) and in the provinces of Kirkuk, Mosul, Anbar, Salah Al Addin, as well as Baghdad. Some candidates deceived voters in the camps where the internally displaced people are located: in Al Anbar, for example, their electoral card was seized. At the same time, the votes of the Iraqi diaspora were manipulated at some polling centers in Jordan and other countries, in order to reduce the political impact of some ethnic and political parties. The same occurred in Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, and Al Anbar.

The manipulation of the results, along with the limited participation of voters, have weakened the legitimacy of the legislative and executive authorities, raising serious concerns about the actual democratic nature of the Iraqi system. This legitimacy shortage is likely to increase the imbalance on a political level, putting at stake the stability of the authorities, especially in the cities where the infringements occurred.

The unrest erupted across the country in the aftermath of the elections is a consequence of all this, and if the crisis keeps escalating the possibility of a civil war or armed conflicts cannot be ruled out, in particular between the parties that won the elections and the militias that lost them.

As a matter of fact, there are political forces and militias that are subordinated to an influential regional state, which is seeking to form a new Iraqi government according to the same rules that were adopted in the formation of previous governments. Those rules were based on sectarian quotas, which have been so far the main cause of the weakness of the institutions, deepening the internal divisions for the sake of the political and economic interests of countries other than Iraq.

But there are other forces that won the 2018 elections and are now seeking to give birth to a new national government based on non-sectarian and non-ethnic criteria. These forces reject foreign interferences, as they promised their voters to form a government aimed at improving the security situation, strengthening the infrastructure system and the basic services for the Iraqi citizens, while fighting corruption.

Confronting the foreign interferences is very difficult and may lead to domestic instability. Today, however, a confrontation is the only solution to the many security, political, economic, social, and cultural problems currently affecting Iraq. As the Iraqis strive to reform the system, the support of the international community is all the more necessary to prevent the interference of foreign agendas in the Iraqi political process.

The Iraqi people are aware of the need of political reforms and socio-economic development to avoid the fall of democracy. For this reason, demonstrations broke out in southern and central Iraq. The failure of the next government and parliament in providing electricity, water and healthcare, and in curbing corruption will push the people to demand drastic changes as already happened in 2003. The decision-makers must recognize the existence of this danger and not miss the opportunity to bring about the reforms that would address the Iraqis’ concerns and needs, thus having a positive impact on the life of people and enhancing the democratic legitimacy of the institutions.

Dr. Hussein Al Sarhan serves as Senior Researcher and political analyst with the Center for Strategic Studies (CSS), International Relations Department, University of Karbala, Iraq.