Predictions Regarding the Presidential Election and the Government in Iraq

Following the approval of the election results of the controversial parliamentary elections held in Iraq on 12 May 2018, the government formation process in Iraq has started and the former Anbar Governor Mohammed al-Halbousi was elected as the Speaker of the Parliament while Bashar Haddad and Hassan Karim al-Kaabi were appointed as his First and Second Deputy Speakers. With this process, the first concrete step was taken for the calendar of the government formation. On 2 October, after the elections of the Speaker of the Parliament and the Deputy Speakers, the Iraqi Parliament gathered to elect the president. According to the statement made by the Iraqi Parliament, 31 people have applied for the presidency and that the applications of 7 of them have been accepted as a result of the evaluation by the authorities. According to the statement made by the Iraqi Parliament, a person has withdrawn his candidacy, 14 candidates could not provide proofs regarding their political experiences and 9 candidates did not have required conditions. Sardar Abdullah, Sirva Abdulvahid, Latif Rashid, Omar al-Barzanji, Abdulkerim Abtan al-Jouburi, Barham Salih and Fuad Hussein’s nominations were accepted for the presidential candidacy. Furthermore, Abbas Bayatli, the deputy chairman of the Turkmen Nationalist Movement, applied for the presidency as well.

In the vote taken on 2 October 2018, Barham Salih, who was presented as the candidate of the PUK to the Iraqi Parliament and appears to be the strongest candidate, was elected as the president as expected. Barham Salih entered the race with Fuad Hussein, the candidate of KDP. At the same time, this was the first time that the Kurds could not agree on a single name and had more than one candidate for the presidency. Out of 329 deputies, 272 attended the parliamentary session held on 2 October 2018. The presidential election was completed in two rounds. In the first round, Barham Salih, Fuad Hussein, and Sirve Abdulvahid, the only female candidate, respectively received 165, 89, and 18 votes. Since there were no candidates receiving the votes of 220 deputies in the first round, the elections were left to the second round. The two presidential candidates who won the most votes in the first round participated in the second. The KDP deputies who were in the parliament announced the withdrawal of Fuad Hussein to the Speaker of Parliament. However, the Speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi did not accept it because the offer was not delivered by Fuad Hussein in person. In the second round of elections, Barham Salih received 219 and Fuad Hussein received 20 votes. According to these results, Barham Salih who received the majority of the votes was elected as the president.

As a result of the second round of voting, it was seen that Barham Salih had received the votes of the majority, and the President of the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court arrived to the parliament and made Barham Salih take the presidential oath. After the inauguration ceremony, Barham Salih officially took office as president and Fuad Masum’s term was over. After the oath ceremony, Salih called Adel Abdulmahdi and charged him with the formation of the government.

The news that Adel Abdulmahdi was to be assigned to the Prime Minister's office and his acceptance by the by the Reform and Building and the Building Block as an independent candidate made the political negotiations for the presidential elections ineffective. Therefore, the agreement between the Building Block, the KDP and the National Axis Alliance could be partially implemented. Candidate of the National Axis Alliance to be e Speaker of the parliament Mohammad al-Halbusi was supported by the Building and the KDP, but this consensus was not implemented by MPs upon an agreement on the candidates for the offices of president and prime minister. The reasons why the members of Parliament voted Barham Salih despite the political agreement can be enumerated as follows:

Barham Salih is more effective and experienced in Baghdad politics compared to Fuad Hussein. Barham Salih served as deputy prime minister. Fuad Hussein, on the other hand, remained in the KRG policy as Secretary General of the KRG Presidency. The political circles in Baghdad thus supported Barham Salih. For this reason, different political groups have closer relations with Barham Salih than Fuad Hussein.

Another factor influencing the tendency of the political masses to vote is the attribution of the responsibility of the KRG referendum to KDP leaders and hence, Fuad Hussein. Although Barham Salih joined the referendum and cast his vote, he refrained from an attitude of adopting the referendum process. For this reason, the political masses think that with Barham Salih, the future of Iraq is more reliable.

Barham Salih was the prime minister of the Sulaimaniyah-based government in 2001-2004 and later served as deputy prime minister first under Iyad Allawi and then during the first government of Nuri al-Maliki. Before he left the office to Nechirvan Barzani between the years 2009-2011 he was appointed the prime minister of the KRG. Therefore, it can be said that Barham Salih is more experienced than Fuad Hussein and he is savvy with the political balances.

It can be said that Iran and the US, which are the two axes affecting Iraqi politics, will support Barham Salih for the reasons mentioned earlier. Therefore, it can be concluded that Barham Salih may be more effective than Fuad Hussein in Iraqi politics.

Another phase of the government formation process in Iraq was completed with the election of the president and the appointment of a possible prime minister to for the government. Appointment of Adel Abdulmahdi, candidate for Prime Minister’s office, to form the government, the government formation process which is provided for by the Iraqi constitution and to last for 30 days at most has started. Adel Abdulmahdi's cabinet must obtain the vote of confidence from the parliament before the foreseen deadline. In order to obtain the confidence vote, the Prime Minister nominee asked the political masses to provide some figures who could be considered as impartial names for the ministerial appointments. Therefore, representatives of different political masses such as Reform and Building and Building Block, which may be called rivals, can join the new government. The increase in the number of political masses within the government may lead to the internal opposition within the government, as experienced in previous periods. On the other hand, the increase in the number of political masses can make it easier to obtain the vote of confidence. Therefore, the fact that the government to be established is not as comprehensive as the previous national unity governments can bring about the formation of opposition within the parliament.

However, the fact that Barham Saleh received more than 165 votes in the first round of the presidential elections indicates that an important obstacle has been overcome in the government formation process. For in order to form a government in Iraq, there is a need for the approval of 165 deputies, the absolute majority in the parliament. That Salih reached the required number for the approval of the election and appointed Adel Abdulmahdi in the very same evening to form the government signals that crucial obstacles were overcome in political negotiations in Iraq. The appointment to form the government following the elections of the President and the Speaker of the Parliament is likely to pave the way for the emergence of quicker developments on behalf of the government. As a matter of fact, Adel Abdulmahdi declared that in order to prevent political obstacles, the ministers should be nominated out of the parliament and be independent and technocratic candidates. Although any name for ministries is likely to be related to any political party, the lack of a direct political engagement will be an important advantage. In this sense, it is possible to say that the Iraqi government is expected to not be a coalition government in which we have the political parties but a government consisting of the technocrats nominated by political parties.