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Election like none before

This could be the most representative election process to be held since the US led invasion in 2003.

Last modified: 4 Mar 2010 18:18
Photo by Omar Chatriwala

As expected an escalation in violence as the first phase of the election process got underway. A series of attacks on polling stations in Baghdad demonstrated there are those intent on disrupting this crucial exercise in democracy. The attacks came as hundreds of thousands throughout Iraq cast early votes: among them the police and army officers who will be deployed in the national elections on Sunday, along with the doctors who will be on duty in hospitals.

If the intention was to dissuade voters from going to the polls all indications are that it will not succeed. Amidst the attacks in Baghdad the turnout in the special voting was reported to be high, and generally there is an air of anticipation about a process that differs from any before.

This could be the most representative election process held since the US led invasion in 2003. The 2005 election was boycotted by a significant proportion of the Sunni community, but this time all political groups have expressed commitment to the process.

In addition an amendment to the election laws last year removes the concept of proportional representation. In the past it was the parties that would nominate candidates to parliament in accordance with the percentage of vote received, now the individual voter has the opportunity to select the candidate and coalition of choice.

The clear consequence is a greater sense of ownership of the process- and a reduction in the potential for corrupt practices within parties and coalitions.

Of great importance too is a changing political scene in which political groupings have to draw from as wide a support base as possible. Those groups with a narrow sectarian base have no possibility of achieving a majority in the 320-seat parliament – a secular approach is no longer a matter of choice but a political necessity. The possibility is that the democratic process itself could serve to narrow the sectarian divide that has been so damaging to the society’s development.

It’s perhaps for these reasons that a dominant theme in the campaign has been nationalism. Political groupings that want a viable chance of becoming part of a governing coalition are emphasising a citizenship shared rather than a religious affiliation that separates. The result: a resurgence of the concept of a united Iraq that overarches religious group.

In the weeks and possibly months of coalition negotiations that are likely to follow Sunday’s election there will also be another development to track. How viable a new nationalism, and what kind of impact it would have on the region as a whole.