Iraqis Prepare for Parliamentary Vote

Iraqis elect a new parliament Thusday, and the groups vying for power will need to form alliances and make compromises. Renee Montagne talks to Miami University of Ohio political science professor Adeed Dawisha about how a coalition government might shape up.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

As Iraqis prepare to vote this week, Iraqi politicians are positioning themselves for the future. Today, Iraq's president said he doesn't want to keep his job. Jalal Talabani says the presidency will have no power under the new constitution. His decision matters because Talabani is a leader of the Kurds, one of three major groups in Iraq.

The choices of many politicians may affect American strategy, so this morning we're checking some of Iraq's shifting political coalitions.

MONTAGNE: To get a sense of how the major parties might build alliances to govern, we've called Adeed Dawisha, professor of political science at Miami University of Ohio. He says that after being locked out of political power in elections last January, Sunnis are going to be playing a bigger role this time around.

Professor ADEED DAWISHA (Miami University of Ohio): Well, for starters there will be certainly a big Sunni turnout if it compares to the January election when there was absolutely nothing. However, the electoral system has been changed. Whereas in January they used Iraq as one constituency, what's happening now is that the parties are going to be elected along provinces. And what you have here is that every province was allocated a particular number of seats. The Sunnis will be getting a bunch of seats in the National Assembly whether or not Sunnis come out in full force to vote for them.

MONTAGNE: Give us a rundown, if you can, of the main parties and the main coalitions of groups expected to do well in this election.

Prof. DAWISHA: Well, the party that probably will have a plurality of the vote is the United Iraqi Alliance. This is the same Shiite coalition that is now ruling Iraq. The Kurdish alliance probably this time will be the second party with only anything between 45 and 55 seats. The Sunni coalition--and there are three parties that represent the Sunni population, but probably the biggest and the most important is one that's called the Concord party, which has an Islamic character to it, very much like the United Iraqi Alliance on the Shiite side. They might get a huge increase on what they had in the last assembly, which is something like about nine or 10 seats. And then of course there's the Allawi group. This is the middle-of-the-road, moderate secular party.

MONTAGNE: So talk to us about alliances, maybe especially unexpected alliances, I mean such as Muqtada Al-Sadr, who's quite known here in American, a Shiite, firebrand I think a lot of people would call him. The fact is, you would think he would be for an autonomous Shiite south, and in fact he's fiercely opposed to that and he would align himself with the people that are fiercely opposed to that.

Prof. DAWISHA: Well, for example, if I can just add to the United Iraqi Alliance, not only is the Sadr group an anomaly within the Iraqi Alliance, there's another group within this alliance called the Fahlita Party(ph) that has already said it will lead the United Iraqi Alliance once the elections are over. What this suggests to me is a possible fragmentation of these coalitions once the results are made.

Now you're not going to be able to get the kind of two-party alliance that dominated the last National Assembly, and what this means, there's going to be a lot of bargaining, a lot of compromises to bring in more than two, maybe three, even the four parties into some kind of a coalition.

MONTAGNE: Would this fluidity be a recipe in your opinion for creativity or for the opposite, for gridlock?

Prof. DAWISHA: That is the biggest unknown. It could be either. It could be a recipe for fragmentation, for dislocation and what you have is a very weak, paralytic government. On the other hand, you can set the environment for bargaining, for compromise, for coalition-making and what you might get therefore is a stronger Iraq. I can't tell you that. It will depend on the kind of coalition-making and bargaining that will occur after the election amongst the parties that win the votes.

MONTAGNE: Adeed Dawisha is professor of political science at Miami University of Ohio. He joined us from member station WMUB in Oxford, Ohio.

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