It is very difficult to make predictions about these elections. The unknowns are too many to factor in. A more prudent approach would be to keep my head down until all this passes over, but when have you known me to do that?
None of the following is scientific, but it is my foggy assessment, primarily based on Baghdad Province, of where people’s sentiments are. The limitations of such an assessment should be clear, so take it all with a grain of salt.
The top vote earner will be current PM Nouri al-Maliki, followed by Ayad Allawi’s slate. Maliki will get 10-15 more seats than Allawi. Maliki is still deriving his stature from his move against the Sadrists; Shia Iraqis of all classes remember him as someone who put an end to the Mahdi Army’s reign of terror and chaos. The Da’awa Party’s Islamist ideology—the vast majority of Maliki’s slate are Da’awa apparatchiks—does not matter to voters. If anything, they see Maliki, oddly, as an anti-Islamist. The charges of corruption, soft on Ba’athism, and general ineptitude did not stick to him, even though voters are cognizant that most executive positions throughout the state are filled with incompetent Da’awa guys.
Allawi has locked up the Sunni vote for the most part. Specifically, the Mutlag faction and Tareq al-Hashemi (current VP) have sold their constituency on the idea that their slate is the Sunnis’ sole protector. This Sunni coalescence around Allawi has strengthened him, leading to an after-effect of secular Shias lining up with him against the Islamists as the strongest candidate who can check their power. Well-financed campaigns also give an impression of strength, and that played a factor in brandishing Allawi as a strong comeback candidate.
The Iraqi National Alliance (Hakim, Ja’afari, Sadrists, Chalabi) will get less than half of Maliki’s seats. Even though they boast many prominent candidates, there seems to be a slide in their support. Their biggest vote earner is anti-Ba’athism, but it’s not enough to put them over the top. Their loss may be the biggest surprise of the elections. That said, what they are saying according to their own polling is that they will get at least twice as many votes as Maliki. The INA is counting on the Sadrists in Baghdad and Basra, but it seems to me that even Maliki is stronger in supposed Sadrist bastions like Sadr City.
Bolani’s slate looks strong on paper, but there has been an erosion of support over the past couple of weeks. Their principal Sunni voices, such as Ahmed Abu Risha and Ahmed al-Samara’i, are not running, and their bases of support gave way to Allawi’s momentum. Bolani has personally failed to be persuasive as a leader in his TV appearances, even though he has publicly put himself forward as a contender for the PM post. At one point he seemed as if he’ll get 22-25 seats, but now has dwindled to 10-12, maybe even less than that.
The Kurds will get around 62 seats, with 4/5 going to Barzani/Talabani and 1/5 going to the Goran slate and the Islamists.
The Commies, Mithal al-Alusi and Ayad Jamal-Eddin will each get less than a handful. Even though they matter in conversations and debates, they are seen as weak adversaries to the Islamists.
The Sunni Islamic Party is in serious trouble, walking away on a good day with about 5 seats.
What remains to be known is how many individual candidates in the provinces may make surprise wins based on their personal reputations, irrespective of slates. If 20-25 unknowns win on such a premise, then the parliament would be further divided even though they may have been candidates on big slates. They will see themselves as a group apart, having won on their own credentials.
The Iraqi voter is emerging from a trauma. The elements that would usually influence voters—corruption, reputations, efficiency, platforms, ideology—don’t sway the vote. Sunnis want someone who can save them from the fate of becoming second-class citizens, and Shias just want peace and quiet. Allawi’s slate satisfies the former, and Maliki reassures the latter. I don’t think either of these guys will become PM, but that’s a different post altogether. I think it will be very difficult to form a government around any of the characters now seen as potential PMs. The next PM needs to come from outside the political process: a male, a gray-haired gent, Shia, background as an administrator in the Iraqi state, secular, and supported by Najaf and the Kurds. This man will head a weak cabinet of technocrats, pending early elections at a time in the future when the political players resolve for a rematch. Day-to-day government will devolve unto local councils. There are only three or four persons who fit this bill.