This could be Iraq’s version of “It’s the economy, stupid”
Final results in this strange Iraqi elections are finally in, and surprises are still emerging. While The Sadrists were the biggest winners in the overall election, one fascinating finding was that former Prime Minster, Nouri Al-Maliki, has yet again won the most votes out of roughly 7000 candidates.
Al-Maliki, who is a candidate (and leader) of The State of Law alliance in Baghdad, has managed to win 102,128 votes in Baghdad, that is the most raw number of votes out of any other local candidate across Iraq. However, to put things in context, it is important to know that back in 2014, Al-Maliki himself won over 700,000 votes in Baghdad, which dwarfs his recent numbers, but the fact remains that he still managed to get the largest number of votes this time as well. Current Prime Minster, Al-Abadi, has won 59,710 votes, which makes him third in Baghdad, but sixth overall in Iraq.
Despite the impressive number of votes for Mr. Al-Maliki, his list, State of Law alliance, has lost the most number of seats compared to the last election, 67 seats, ending up winning only 25 seats, coming in the fourth place in the overall tally of votes (compared to being first with 92 seats in 2014). There is no denial that this has been an extremely disappointed election not just for Al-Maliki, but the whole political establishment, including the alliance of the current prime minster.
Why is Al-Maliki Still Popular?
Compared to 2010 and 2014, Al-Maliki has indeed lost most of his popularity and support. After all, many Iraqis accuse him of corruption, sectarianism, and even blame him for the rise of ISIL in mid-2014 and his allegiance to Iran and tolerating, if not encouraging, Iran’s influence over Iraq’s politics. He was the prime minster that was pushed out of the government due to large opposition protests and inability to defeat ISIL. Meanwhile, Al-Abadi, who was in the same political bloc as Al-Maliki, was the compromise option after Al-Maliki was pushed away. Yet despite all the controversies surrounding him, and his alliance’s collapse in the 2018 election, he still enjoys huge support from a core base of voters, mainly in Baghdad. In a fragmented, surprising, semi-cross sectarian election where no alliance have made it even close to the 165 majority seats, Al-Maliki yet again comes first in the raw number of votes.
Of course a candidate coming first in number of votes is meaningless, Iraq has a complicated electoral system of open lists.In addition, Iraq uses the Webster/Sainte-Laguë method with a divisor of 1.7…
But the not surprising reason that explains why Al-Maliki is still enjoying support from his base is simply; money.
In a way it feels like a repetition of Clinton’s “Its the economy, stupid”.
During Al-Maliki’s tenure, Iraq experienced rapid economic growth. From 2006 (when Maliki first took control) till 2014 (his last year), the Iraqi per capita GDP almost tripled, from a little over $2,000 to almost $7,000 in 2013
This has translated to higher standards of living for most Iraqis, and it was evident when Al-Maliki consistently gave raises to the public sector employees, most notably the army and police forces, which helped the two entities expand in numbers of personnel as they were a safe source of good income for a lot of the unskilled, poorly-educated citizens.
And Iraq’s GDP went from roughly $65bil in 2006 to well over $230bil in 2014, a whopping 260% increase in less than 10 years.
Of course, Al-Maliki was helped by a period of expensive oil prices, coincided with sharp increase in oil prices in 2008. Right after 2014, Iraq suffered not only from a near total collapse as ISIL swept through lands, but also an economic crisis as oil prices tumbled to decades lows. So not many experts can argue for Al-Maliki-induced economic polices to explain the rapid growth, rather than simply fortune and luck. However, to many ordinary Iraqis, they could care less about the real reasons behind their country’s economic growth behind their former PM, to them, just like to many voters across the world, they evaluate their governments according to their wallets. So it is not surprising that many of those who voted for Abu Israa (Al-Maliki’s teknonymy, used among his base), they simply did it because they’re yearning to higher incomes and better economic performance. As Iraq show signs of stabilization, and its democracy show some signs of maturing, this formula could serve as a recipe for future elections, as voters expand their priorities past terrorism and security and start paying attention to economic performance and standards of living, they want to see campaigns that focus not only on achievements against terrorism, but also economic programs that improve their daily lives.