The independents have a hand in the Iraqi government formation crisis
(an initiative that has not been examined yet)
This policy paper presents a reading of the phenomenon of independents candidate in Iraq, with its dimensions, causes, and repercussions on the current political scene, especially in their role as an alternative to traditional forces, and as a third party in the Iraqi government formation crisis.
by Dr. Adnan Al-Rubaie
- Publisher – STRATEGIECS
- Release Date – Jun 2, 2022
We can say that the composition of the current Iraqi parliament 2021 is surprising in terms of the types of the members, compared to the parliament in its last round. As it is no longer limited to the traditional political forces that have been dominating the political scene since 2003, after the new parliament included a number of independents.
Accordingly, this paper presents a reading of the phenomenon of independents, with its dimensions, causes, and repercussions on the current political scene in Iraq, especially their role as a third party in resolving the crisis of forming the Iraqi government, and reforming the existing approach of the state affair management.
The independent candidate phenomenon in the Iraqi elections
Idiomatically speaking, “independent candidate” in literature is used to refer to the person who works in politics and runs for elections, without being a member of a political party, affiliated with it or listed in its electoral lists. The term has expanded in Iraq to refer to members of emerging political parties.
The phenomenon of independents in Iraq has its justifications and legitimacy, including the necessity of crowding out traditional political forces, and the need to represent the silent majority that periodically boycotts the elections. The public acceptance of this phenomenon has prompted the political parties to classify themselves as independents. This phenomenon, its results, and the reasons for participation and results in the elections can be summarized as follows:
First: The rise of a popular discourse that calls for avoiding partisanship, and receives the support of many opinion leaders, especially in the scientific and academic community.
Second: The belief that the traditional political forces have not committed to addressing the problem of corruption, in addition to the deterioration of infrastructure, and the increase in unemployment rates.
Third: In popular culture and behavior, there is a link between the integration of independence and professionalism.
Fourth: The need for opposition parties that provide a different and alternative voice than the traditional political forces, which are all considered ruling parties in Iraq.
Fifth: The fear of producing a partisan alternative, similar to the existing traditional parties seeking to run the state in several cases according to their narrow partisan interests.
Accordingly; these reasons have led to the rise of popular demands for independents to practice political work, and provided the opportunity for some personalities to participate in the elections. Although democracy requires partisanship, the phenomenon in Iraq was established on a cultural and social basis; its rise is linked in one way or another to the movement that the country witnessed in 2019 and before, as anti-partisanship was promoted, which was evident in the percentages of the demographic distribution of new MPs, with cities in the south and center of Iraq including the highest percentage.
Independent Representatives in the new Council of Representatives
The new independent members of Parliament can be included in three main parties. Some of them are known for their approach that is close to traditional political forces, while others emerged from the October movement in 2019, and the third party is governed to the logic of the alternative created by reference and public demands. The latter is in line with the traditional discourse in terms of the need to preserve the existing political custom, and not be dragged behind the great demands for change.
The three parties obtained a significant number of seats; representing 18% of the total number of seats in the Council of Representatives. The "Emtidad Movement" emanating from the Tishreen movement and the "Ishraqa Kanon bloc" obtained nine and six seats, respectively, in addition to the total other 40 independent seats.
These independents still lack sufficient confidence to form a unified discourse concerning the government formation crisis, for several reasons related to the ideological difference between the parties’ components, and the closeness of some of them to the traditional forces. These reasons, along with others, are liable to cause the independents to lose their ability to present a unified and influential discourse, or make a decision representing all of them and applied to them. Because of this problem, the independents have missed the opportunity to work collectively and prove their effectiveness and presence in the Council of Representatives, in contrast to the traditional political forces, which professionalized negotiation and mastered the political game.
It is possible to explain the most prominent emerging formations (Emtidad Movement, Ishraqa Kanon and The Independents) and present their positions as follows:
1- Emtidad Movement
This movement is considered the main representative of Tishreen movement in Parliament, especially after several Tishreen platforms withdrew from the elections, while others did not get any seats. So that the movement’s representation was limited to Emtidad Movement, which is one of the most popular movements.
As for the movement’s supporters, obtaining nine seats in the Council of Representatives was a victory that contradicted many expectations, even the most optimistic ones. Its seats represented the cities of central and southern Iraq, consistent with the geographical distribution of the governorates that witnessed the movement in October (see the table), with the exception of the capital, Baghdad, in which the movement was unable to win any seat.
Since victory, the movement has made a number of decisions by which it defined its political agenda in the Council of Representatives, foremost of which is its declaration not to ally with traditional political forces, not to take part in the next government, and to focus on holding those accused of killing the October protesters accountable.
This movement succeeded in allying with the New Generation Party, a Kurdish opposition party that won nine seats, under the name "Alliance for the People". However, it has not succeeded in including the independents, even those emanating from the Tishreen Movement, despite its involvement in several negotiations and initiatives to unite them in one alliance.
Although the movement was able to find its way through the grip of the traditional dominant political forces, it stumbled due to a number of mistakes that were considered a political failure by some, including:
First: The movement does not have a document describing itself, through which it defines its classification, form, and the nature of its alliances, which keeps their point of view and their agenda toward political, economic and social issues afloat.
Second: Some believe that the decisions made by the movement since its entry into the parliament (as previously mentioned), are nearly impossible and it may not be able to translate them from “words into action,” which would result in the movement’s inability to fulfill its promises to its supporters.
Third: The movement has not presented an integrated program for how it would practice opposition, after its refusal to participate in the next government, nor has it presented the mechanisms through which it would confront the political culture based on dealing with the authority, not the opposition.
Fourth: It is noted that the movement is consistent with the logic of civility, in the face of traditional political forces, and as a result it faces accusations of deviating from taking into account the needs and services of its electoral bases.
One of the results of these reasons is that it created a barrier that hinders the movement’s activity and work, as it created hope that it cannot live up to within a short time frame. uncertainty exists about its commitment to its decisions concerning not allying with the traditional forces. Their decisions have harmed the movement’s cohesion and reduced its flexibility in a changing and intertwined political environment, which was evident in the dismissal of the movement’s Secretary-General after suspicions – denied by the latter – of an alliance with the Sadrist movement, the greatest winner in the elections.
2- Ishraqa Kanon Block
The bloc is one of the emerging forces in Iraq, to which a group of academic elites and intellectuals belong. It was formed after the 2019 movement, following a speech by the representative of the religious authority in Karbala, in which he called on the elites “to form alternative lists that would undertake reform.”
The bloc was known to the public during the electoral race, and managed to win six seats in the new Council of Representatives. Some attribute the movement’s victory to its association with representatives in the religious authority, which the movement and the authority alike deny. The main reason for its arrival in Parliament may be its interest in including intellectuals in its electoral lists, selected from those who are not suspected morally or financially.
Their seats (see the table) included members from the governorates that witnessed momentum in the formation of the emerging political forces, especially the governorates of Qadisiyah and Babil. In the Karbala governorate; its main center, the bloc won two seats.
One can describe the bloc’s relationship with the traditional political forces as moderate and does not hold a strong antagonism with them. Unlike Emtidad movement, the bloc has not restricted itself to making specific promises and agenda, rather; it has presented itself as a positive opposition, apparently in an indication to avoid a clash with traditional forces.
Its role in the opposition included demands for political reform and for establishing an effective and stable government, which - the demands - have not received a wide response, despite the bloc's boycott of the presidential election session until its demands are taken seriously. Given its recent formation, and the non-confrontational discourse, their political discourse suffered from the following :
First: The bloc's discourse is read in the context of its desire to avoid competition with traditional forces, in terms of its use of the description of "positive opposition", which contradicts the opposition's traditional role in competing with the ruling party as a possible alternative to it.
Second: The demands contained in the bloc’s statement, as a whole, are general and can be realized in the public discourse and charters of all parties and other political formations, which made them lose the distinction that determines their political path, and make them better than others for the voters and the public.
Third: The bloc have not announced an explicit stance towards emerging or traditional parties, which left them without alliances with anyone, for fear of falling into a wrong position between one of the parties and its opponent.
These reasons may be what kept the traditional parties away from attempts to disperse the bloc after the reassurance messages they sent, but they lost the alliance with other independents, in addition to their failure to achieve the desire of their supporters to take serious and realistic positions to confront the aggravating crises.
The new electoral law for the year 2020 was the main drive in the composition of the current parliament compared to previous councils, specifically in the mechanism by which the electoral districts were divided. This mechanism allowed the independents to run for elections and win regardless of where they are from, in addition to the imposed changes in the nature of campaigns the electoral process and the foundations of candidacy for the traditional forces, some of which adapted by pushing a number of their affiliated personalities to run as independents, while others have lost their usual share in the Council because they have not adapted to the changes.
As for the independents, they obtained seats from all Iraqi provinces in varying proportions, due to the control of traditional political forces over fixed shares in some of them, in addition to the fact that candidacy in some provinces is clan-based. Their proportion in Baghdad, Najaf and Babil was the highest.
If the seats of Emtidad Movement are counted for the independents, then the province of Babil -equal with Baghdad- wins six seats. In a related context, the inclusion of the emerging parties puts the provinces of Dhi Qar and Karbala in the list of the highest voting for independents. As shown in the following table:
The demographic distribution shows that none of the independent candidates won in the governorates of Erbil and Karbala, but this does not include the broad concept of independents, including the emerging non-traditional forces. Ishraqa Kanon Bloc won representative seats from the Karbala governorate, leaving Erbil unique in its results; the reason may be due to the clan nature of the electoral process in the governorate.
However, the most important observations that can be read in the above table are in the diversity that accompanied the candidacy of independents and the many different governorates they come, which inevitably means the multiplicity of their links and the divergence of their goals in a way that makes it difficult to integrate within one single group.
Hence, the differences between the independents are noted in their positions on the government formation crisis, in light of the fact that the majority of the recipients from the western provinces joined the traditional forces, and others waited for the horizon to be blocked so they would they disclose their intentions concerning their participation or opposition to the next government.
However, despite the scattering nature of independents; they have had a saying in the process of forming the government, with the continuing dispute over saving the homeland and the coordination framework, and the inability of one of them to proceed alone in forming it, after the Federal Court’s interpretation that the election of the President of the Republic requires a quorum of two-thirds of all members of the Council of Representatives, which prompted the two parties to launch a number of initiatives with the aim of attracting independents, enabling one of the parties to form a government independent of consensus with the other party.
Coordination Framework Initiative towards Independents
The coordination framework launched an initiative aimed at getting out of the stalemate accompanying the formation of the government. It revolves around limiting the choice of the president to an agreement among the Kurdish parties, while the Shiite forces agree on a prime minister accepted by all Shiite bloc and named by the independent representatives, while giving the opposition members who do not want to participate in the next government a role in oversight bodies.
However, the merits of that initiative put the independents - if they agree - in an unbalanced equation, in terms of choosing a prime minister who is known by the Council of Representatives, given that the independents do not constitute the parliamentary majority. Those who were granted a role in the oversight bodies by the initiative may become ineffectual minority, which makes them lose their required role before their voters.
Through this analysis, the prime minister would be the weakest link under the pressure of the largest blocs in Parliament, in addition to the difficulty of the government passing its agendas in the Council of Representatives because of the absence of an actual bloc supporting it. The dimensions of the initiative can be read as a maneuver to return to the previous consensus that disperse the independents and keep them away from the alliance with the Sadrist movement, to come up with a prime minister commensurate with the idea of consensus.
The Sadrist Movement's Initiative for Independents
The Sadrist movement has submitted its initiative at the beginning of May of this year, hours after the aforementioned initiative of the coordination framework, which includes the pledge of the movement to vote for the independents, provided that they form a united bloc of no less than (40) members, in addition to the Sadrist movement's recognition for the first time of the independents as a third party in the process of forming the government, along with the movement itself and the coordinating framework.
The Sadrist movement gave the independents a deadline of fifteen days to approve its initiative, a period that observers consider insufficient and comes as a matter of gaining time, in addition to ensuring the support of the independents, and announcing the disclaimer of the movement regarding the government formation crisis.
The initiative does not differ in its impact on the independents. In the first, they elect the prime minister without a parliamentary base supporting him, and in the second, they form the government with the National Front for the Salvation of Iraq, without the Sadrist movement having a participation in choosing its ministers, a point that gives the movement preference over the coordinating framework.
For the independents, both initiatives carry potential risks on the level of their participation and the future of their activity, but at the same time, they emphasize the importance of the phenomenon of independents as an active and important party in the current political scene, as they are the potential exit from the government formation crisis in light of the blockage of consensus between the National Front for the Salvation of Iraq and the coordination framework.
A number of independent deputies chose not to remain silent about the government formation crisis, and put forward an initiative in mid-May 2022. It consists of seven items, based on observance of constitutional obligations, the formation of a government that includes independents along with other political movements without preconditions, and that the prime minister enjoy independence and impartiality, while ensuring the right of the opposition.
It is clear that the independents continue to speak in general and without clear frameworks, due to the lack of common political denominators and visions that bring together their different individuals as we explained previously. On the other hand, the initiative contains a contradiction when talking about the role of the independents in forming the government and their right to opposition in the same time, not to mention that the initiative statement did not include the names of the signatories to it or the nature of their alliance.
The previous narrative enables us to answer an important question about the reasons that prompted the independents to put forward their initiative after the previous two initiatives, and after a long period of silence, at a time when they claim, according to their statement, their centrality and their right to form the government!
The independents did not define their political approach; and their position towards the opposition or the government formation, as one of the reasons that have been preventing them until this moment from stating their agenda in a clearly defined document.
This was not the first initiative of independents; The "Alliance for the People" which includes Emtidad Movement and the New Generation Party launched its initiative in late April 2022. It is based, as stated in their statement, on nominating the prime minister by the independents, while emphasizing their unwillingness to participate in any future government, indicating at the same time their willingness to vote for the government; provided that its president was not a participant in previous governments, and is not the product of “a quota” process.
It can be said that the statement of the Alliance "For the People" is the most vigilant, considering that the independents are unable to face the long experience of the large blocs, and are unwilling to give up the nomination of the Prime Minister, in contrast, the declaration of the coalition goes on with the opposition.
The phenomenon of independents and their rise in the new Council of Representatives represented a breach of the traditional political forces that have shaped the scene since 2003. However, the independents must address a number of problems due to their lack of previous experience in the political process, which threatens them with losing their current opportunity. In return; The traditional forces are aware of the danger of the expansion of the independent’s phenomenon, and the rise of their percentage in the Council of Representatives, in a way that crowds out their usual quotas in previous governments. Therefore, there will be an effort by these forces to include the independents in the process of quarrels and contradictions, and this goes beyond that to involve them in a consensus government that will make them lose the contents of their discourse and their electoral bases.
Nevertheless, the independents still have the opportunity to adopt a stable political approach and a realistic course of action that defines for them the frameworks of their existence, relations and roles. Either they form the opposition as a united and strong bloc that seeks to activate its oversight role over the government by working to ensure their representation in parliamentary committees, especially the Integrity and Legal Committees, or be united as a third party with its vision and conditions for forming a government.
Perhaps the best initiative for independents to ensure the sustainability of their phenomenon and their presence in the upcoming parliamentary sessions consists of several points, including:
First: Trying to find out common political goals that unite them, in isolation from their multiple ideologies, with the need for them to highlight their primary goal in opposing traditional political forces and their approach to managing the state.
Second: The need for independents to unanimously agree on a clear and explicit position regarding the dispute between the coordination framework and saving the homeland regarding the formation of the government, especially in defining their tendencies towards a majority or consensual government. The matter should not be left for polarization until their hand is tilted to one side over the other. The Iraqi public deals with political clarity more than a discourse of interpretations.
Third: The delay in the independents declaring themselves as a party in the opposition does not earn them their legitimacy among the people, and threatens to drag them into the traditional political process based on consensus, as it is the prevailing approach and is expected to constitute the final exit from the crisis, along with the other solution by calling for the dissolution of Parliament. Therefore, the delay in defining their position as opposing forces will make them lose their basic principle. The prolonged crisis and dissolving the Parliament would make their discourse ineffective for their bases and audiences.
Fourth: The need to issue a rhetorical document that defines their relations with other parties, their vision of governance and the model required for managing the state, in order to first establish their relationship with their supporters, and secondly determine their political path.
Without these principles, the opportunity to have a role for independents in Iraqi political life may be lost, and the public would lose the opportunity to search for an alternative after political failures.
The opinions expressed in this study are those of the author. Strategiecs shall bear no responsibility for the views and/or opinion of its author on security, economic, social, and other issues, as they do not necessarily represent the views of the Think Tank.
Dr. Adnan Al-Rubaie
Researcher in Iraqi political affairs