Iraq has suffered its fair share of instability stemming from poor political leadership. Furthermore, this instability and poor leadership have made the country to agonize from endemic corruption, threats to national security, failure to provide basic services to citizens, and continued lack of economic development since the 2003 Iraqi War.
The war-torn country held parliamentary elections on May 12 this year. Many saw the election as an opportunity to rebuild Iraq and change the focus to institutional and economic development as well as the fight against corruption. The May elections were the first since the defeat of Islamic State (ISIS). The war against the terror group has left a third of Iraq in ruins.
Unfortunately, the opportunity to rebuild the country was wasted at a critical juncture when, starting from the first day of tallying votes, evidence of massive fraud surfaced. The election fraud continues to cause great chasm among the people, political parties, and state institutions.
The reservations created by claims to a fraudulent elections process, in itself, is a threat to national security. Iraq risks being disunited, which could instigate the country into violence, instability and possibly another civil war. That is why, before looking into the repercussions of instability in Iraq, it’s vital to justify, to some extent, the allegations of a botched election.
Iraqi Elections’ Red Flags
One week before the elections, the United Nations’ (U.N.) observation team in Iraq indicated failures in the electoral voting system, but the electoral commission did not take any action. When the electoral commission informed the government that it was unable to inspect the voting system a week prior to the election date, it seemed suspicious.
After the elections were carried out, contentious issues that diminish the legitimacy of the entire election process came to light. It turned out that 2 million ballot papers were missing. The raised claims implied that the Iraqi police and army personnel got double ballot papers each. One ballot paper was meant to be cast at their camp, while the other was cast at their home station.
If the May 12 elections were held legitimately, then why would the commission wait with the election results announcement until the end of the month? Could it have been a plot to allow the autocratic and unpopular government stay in power for another term?
The telltale signs of a fraudulent election raise a lot of suspicions which reduces voter confidence in the electoral process. It immediately led to protests in regions like the Kirkuk Province in northern Iraq, where demonstrators demanded a manual recount of the votes.
Averting violence and possible civil war should be Iraq’s main concern, and the best way to do so is by holding fresh, legitimate elections. What are the authorities and stakeholders doing to remedy the stalemate in the country?
Steps Taken to Handle the Standoff
The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) called on the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to carry out immediate and thorough investigations into the complaints raised about the electoral process, but IHEC was reluctant. It feared that looking into the claims would discredit the new electronic voting system. Saeed Kakei, one of the commissioners at IHEC, is against the commission’s decision not to look into fraud claims.
The Parliament, on its part, convened a special meeting to address the issues raised by political parties and other stakeholders. They formed a High Committee through the Council of Ministers where all stakeholders are represented, including the National Security Advisor in the National Security Council. The team is tasked with looking into claims of fraud raised by different stakeholders.
Political Groups’ Current Stand
The move taken by the government does not seem objective as the evidence presented by four parties in opposition (Komal, Gorran, CDJ, and KIU) about the fraudulent electoral process is overwhelming. In addition, the Kurdish Change Movement has hundreds of documents showing that parliamentary elections in Kurdistan and Kirkuk were interfered with by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party).
Iraqis were reluctant to go and vote due to fear of violence that would interrupt the process. About 51 percent of the opposition voters in Kurdistan boycotted the elections, and it makes the process unconstitutional. There should be a rerun of the elections so that the will of the Iraqi people can be fulfilled.
The final verdict by the political groups, especially the opposition, is to have an election re-do. Buying time by trying to investigate the claims does not solve the matter but further exacerbates the problem. The Kurdish region is likely to break into violence which could easily spill over the rest of the country.
Consequences of Instability
Instability is dangerous for Iraq. It can easily escalate into a full-fledged war further making the country a non-governable state. Such conditions could easily trigger the creation of a militant center of authority to fill in the political vacuum, and a new ISIS could emerge.
It means that efforts by developed countries like the U.S. to bring Iraq to order were futile. Taking out ISIS was a futile process because instability in Iraq is guaranteed to resurrect the insurgency group.
Another election could be an expensive affair, but accountability in the electoral process is the remedy for democracy. It will avert instability in Iraq sparing the country from a more expensive turn of events. Iraq should hold fresh legitimate elections.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.