Guest Op-Ed by Dr Brian Brivati
Every election in Iraq matters but it feels like the current election matters more than most because the future integrity of the country and the political system are in the balance. The Iraqi experiment in democracy is at stake.
If the new electoral system works then the individual candidates will be empowered and the parties will need to consolidate into a smaller number of larger blocks in order to form a government. The greater accountability of candidates in this kind of a system should move politics towards the centre. It will also mean that because of the ethnic divisions of the country have caused the disappearance of many ethically mixed constituencies in many places, the political competition is less about Shia vs Sunni, than about Shia vs Shia. That opens a road towards broad based parties that might represent interests and ideas rather than identities. Interests like class might come to define party allegiances more. Ideas like how best to run the economy might come to define the debate more. These would replace identities and the endless march to be the most Shia party, the most Sunni party. The position in the Kurdish region is obviously different and the internal politics will play to their own tune but for the Kurdish parties the decision of who to back to form a government needs also to move towards interests and ideas and away from identities.
A national government in the national interest
If these forces pushing Iraqi politics towards the centre ground are to be more powerful than the countervailing forces pushing the country towards ever greater sectarianism then political leadership needs to be broadened. There needs to be a move away from the PM’s selection being the defining event of the election towards the idea that the PM must form a government and that government most represent a broad based coalition of voters united behind the support for the government’s programme. Of course it matters hugely who is in charge of the government and the power of the office has defined both some of the highest points in Iraqi history, for example the defeat of Daesh, since 2003 and also some of its lowest points. But that office needs the support of a broad based party with members who are held to account by their constituents in the new single member seats. For that to happen Iraq needs a Cabinet that functions as a team and has the best people for the job in post. To recover the economy after Covid-19, to break the strangle hold of corruption and to ensure that the security situation remains relatively stable internally, unity of purpose and ministers working in the national interest as essential. To keep Iraq placed as a regional focal point for stability and to contain the military and strategic threats from Turkey and from the wider regional conflicts requires leadership in the national interest. This does not mean that it cannot be party interest but it does mean that the party needs to represent a broad cross section of society.
Peace, Jobs and Honesty
The broad based party is the party that holds the centre ground. It is from the centre ground of politics that good governance almost always comes. It is from the extremes that exclusion and bad governance are derived. On my most recent trip to Bagdad last week, I was lucky to meet with three political figures who can construct the hard centre of Iraqi politics.
Ammar Al Hakim is the personification of a centrist politician who works to articulate a Iraqi national identity even as he represents a significant slice of moderate Shia opinion. He is the rock on which a centre ground government can be formed. Whomever the Prime Minister they need Hakim’s personal and political weight but more importantly the moderating forces need his wisdom and leadership.
Alongside him and aligned with him for this election is Haider al-Abadi, the former PM who won the war against Daesh. If he is not to be a PM then his organizational skill, drive, vision and leadership should be used by the next government to fight corruption in all is pervasive forms. That drive against corruption needs a new economic and social contract between the government and the people of Iraq based on the creation of economic opportunity for the majority of the population that is under 40.
The person who could lead this drive and captain this effort is Adnan Darjal the current Minister of Youth and newly elected head of the football association. If there is someone who could lead the charge that would break down the barriers between the public and the private sector in Iraq it is Darjal. Each one of these would make a great PM but if they are not to have the top post then imagine them in a government of national unity playing the following roles.
The hard centre
Ammar Al-Hakim as the Foreign Minister with the task of promoting peace in the region, playing the role of bridge between KSA and Iran and representing Iraq on the world stage.
Haider al-Abadi as the commander in chief of an Anti-Corruption programme that leaves no stone unturned and has the full weight of the government behind it.
Adnan Darjal as the Minister for Economic Recovery charged with marrying private sector, public sector and third sector energy into a single unified programme of economic regeneration based on creating a start-up culture amongst the young.
Together they could build the hard centre on which the future of Iraq depends.