Maliki is likely to face several contestants in his bid to win a third term in office: Photo: Rudaw
By Muhammad Khoshnaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – With final results from Iraq’s April 30 elections finally out, the Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is likely to face several contestants in his bid to win a third term in office.
So far, the embattled Maliki seems to be the only solid contender nominated by his Sate of Law Coalition. But two of the competitors, Hussain Shahristani and Tariq Najm Abdulla, both from the Shiite Alliance, are seen as the more likely frontrunners.
Shahristani, an influential policymaker within the Shiite factions, has been cited as a possible successor to Maliki. But critics say his chances are slim, due to his notably stormy relations with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over oil deals that he has vehemently opposed.
Abdulla, on the other hand, is a leading figure within the Shiite coalition who has not been in the spotlight as often as other leaders. But he has a reputation as a mediator, someone who rushes into the scene when a crisis is at its worst. He has had productive face-to-face talks with the Kurdish leaders in the past and enjoys healthy relations with Iran, Turkey and the US. In addition, he has been in constant touch with the powerful Iraqi cleric Ali Sistani.
On the Sunni side there is Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister and head of the powerful Wataniyya List which consists of major Sunni factions in the country. They won most of the seats in the 2010 parliamentary elections but lost the post to Maliki, who adeptly rallied the Shiite groups behind his own State of Law Coalition.
Allawi, a secular Shiite politician with close ties to both Riyadh and Washington, seems to have mended ties with not only the influential Shiite leaders, including Muqtada Sadr and Ammar Hakim, but also with the increasingly dominant Iran.
Also in the running could be Adil Abdul Mahdi, a former vice president and outspoken Shiite critic of Maliki. He has enjoyed good relations with the powerful Kurdish factions in the north who have been the kingmakers in past elections. Nonetheless, Abdul Mahdi seems to enjoy feeble support from the fragmented Shiite coalition of the Patriotic Alliance.
Within the Shiite ranks, specifically from Ammar Hakim’s Islamic National Council, another possible candidate has resurfaced. Baqir Zobaidi, a former minister in Maliki’s two previous governments, has been praised for his management of the ministry of finance, but later severely criticized for his handling of the interior ministry.
Ahmad Chalabi, also a veteran with close ties with both Ammar Hakim’s Council and the Kurdish parties, is a possible consensus nominee whom the Sunni and Shiite groups are likely to favor. His deteriorating relations with the US, coupled with his prevalent contacts with the Islamic Republic of Iran, might limit his fortunes this time.
Jaafar Sadr, the son of the assassinated Shiite cleric Muhammad Baqir Sadr, is seen as yet another expected contestant for the premiership. But he has no major support outside the Shiite Sadr Movement.
Lastly, Ali Adib, affiliated with Maliki’s Daawa party, has been a member of the Iraqi parliament for two consecutive terms and nominated for the premiership twice in previous elections. He is likely to secure a better chance this time, largely because Maliki could be hindered from running for a third term. Adib has been praised for his reforms within the Higher Education Ministry, where he almost doubled the number of universities across the country. But he has weak support both within and outside of his own party.