The LAT reports that the National Dialogue Front, a secular party led by Salih Mutlak, is calling for a boycott of the March 7 parliamentary elections in Iraq. The NDF has 11 seats in parliament, but Mutlak and another prominent party member were among over 500 candidates (out of over 6000) for parliament disqualified as too close to the prohibited Baath Party. Many of those excluded from running had openly criticized the provision in the Iraqi constitution that bans members of the Baath Party from public life. The purge of Mutlak has been widely condemned in Iraq as unfair, since he left the party in the late 1970s.
Mutlak announced that the boycott decision was taken after remarks by American leaders in Iraq that the banning of candidates had been instigated by Iran. Mutlak said that the upcoming polls in Iraq had been hijacked by Iran and were being conducted according to the Iranian rules, wherein the regime predetermines who wins and some candidates are excluded from running.
Some observers worry that there will be a mass Sunni boycott of the elections, as happened with disastrous effects in January of 2005. I don’t think that catastrophe can now be repeated, because at that time the elections were held on a nation-wide basis. The current elections instead have Iraqi provinces as the electoral unit. Thus, the largely Sunni provinces of al-Anbar, Salahuddin and Ninevah will return a lot of Sunni members of parliament even with a boycott (the resulting members of parliament just would not represent that many people).
Liz Sly of the LAT says that there are two main Shiite blocs for the first time in this election (the first two parliamentary elections saw the Shiite religious parties unite into a single coalition). But she says that the two ” have an informal agreement” to come together as a mega-coalition after the elections, which will enable them to form the government. (In the Iraqi constitution, the largest single party or coalition in parliament gets first shot at choosing the prime minister.)
I have argued that the Shiite-dominated Accountability and Justice Committee may have banned Mutlak precisely in hopes that his National Dialogue Front would boycott, thus depriving the Iraqiya list of enough seats to make a bid to form the government.
Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that the National Dialogue Front gave as further reasons for its boycott that it was also concerned about the lack of security for elections, by the government’s arbitrary arrest of its candidates and party workers, and by the lack of a truly independent high electoral commission.
In contrast, the National Iraqi List, headed by former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi– which the National Dialogue Front had joined in a coalition effort– announced that it would begin campaigning in earnest after last week’s one-week hiatus. Allawi kicked off the campaign with a visit to the capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, for consultations with King Abdullah. Saudi Arabia has backed Iraqi Sunnis behind the scenes, and is worried about Iranian influence in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the main Shiite bloc, the National Iraqi Alliance (which includes the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, formed in 1982 in Iran), accused the United States of interfering in Iraqi domestic politics and of plotting to bring the Baath Party back into prominence as the “neo-Baath.”
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