Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Limitations of National Unity Governments

Many hoped that the recent national elections in Iraq would shake up the balance of power that has prevailed in Baghdad since 2005 by ushering in some new parties and producing a coalition government with a greater degree of ideological coherence. In this context, recent developments in the post-election negotiation phase provide reasons for disappointment.

One of the many problems with the 2006-2010 government was that it included so many parties with conflicting ideologies. It may have been a "national unity" government in name, but it was incoherent ideologically. It included the main Shi'i religious parties, Prime Minister Maliki's Da'wa, the Kurdish Alliance, and the Sunni-led Tawafuq bloc. Since there was virtually nothing binding these blocs together besides the desire to cling to power, the government has not managed to accomplish much in the last four years.

Though former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's bloc faired the best in the recent elections (winning 91 out of 325 seats), he will not be forming the next government. A supreme court ruling has decided that the leader of the largest bloc in parliament is to be designated with forming a government, and that blocs can form after the election. This means that al-Maliki's bloc (State of Law, which finished second with 89 seats) can merge with the third place finisher (the INA, collection of Shi'i religious parties). Throw in the Kurdish Alliance, and you have yourselves the necessary number of parliamentary seats to form a government. But because Maliki has made so many enemies within the INA and Kurdish blocs during his tenure as PM, it is likely that he will not be nominated as the new PM if a State of Law + INA + Kurdish Alliance coalition emerges.

What's wrong with this potential coalition? Nothing, except it is the same coalition that has dominated Iraqi politics since 2005. And it excludes the bloc that finished first in the elections (Allawi has said he will not join such a coalition).

The ironic part about all this is that the two top finishers in the recent elections - Maliki and Allawi's blocs - are quite ideologically coherent. Both favor a strong central government, talk in nationalist terms, and are perceived as less sectarian than their rivals. Yet, a fierce personal rivalry has prevented them from reaching an accord and has forced each to turn to less logical alliance partners.

Though grandiose "national unity" governments that comprise as many blocs as possible may sound normal and fair, they often come at the expense of ideological coherence. That is precisely what happened from 2006 to 2010, and it is happening again today. The real losers in all of this are the millions of Iraqis who value a state capable of delivering security, jobs and services over a state based on ethno-sectarian quotas.

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