By far the most important thing about the preliminary results of Iraq’s April 30 parliamentary election is the nature of the conversation that is now taking place about them. It is a conversation about what it means for a sitting Prime Minister when he wins less than 30 percent of the vote but does much better than his rivals—and about whether Iraq’s next government should be one of broad national unity or formed on the basis of a simple majority. It is a conversation about deliciously esoteric and endlessly iterative matters of parliamentary arithmetic in a place where no identity group is close to monolithic and where almost any of the ten main factions is capable of working with any other.
It is a conversation, in other words, about government formation in a functional, stable, and constitutional electoral setting. There is no talk of coups, of disenfranchised minorities, or politicized electoral commissions. The process of forming the next government may take months, and current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the front-runner, although his victory is far from certain. Whoever does emerge atop what Disraeli called the “greasy pole”, there is no chance of a government that harbors al-Qaeda or belongs to the mullahs in Tehran, that invades its neighbors, assassinates its enemies, or gasses its own people. All of these things are vote-losers in Iraq, and in Iraqi politics today it is the vote that matters most.
The April election was the seventh time since January 2005 that Iraqis have gone to the polls on a national basis. The land of the purple finger has enjoyed four parliamentary elections, with an average turnout of 63 percent; two nationwide provincial elections, with an average turnout of 52 percent; and a constitutional referendum in which 63 percent of the country turned out to vote (and 79 percent voted “Yes”) on the republic’s inclusive, liberal, federalist constitution.