by Xu Ruiqing, Jamal Hashim
BAGHDAD, April 27 (Xinhua) -- Iraq's incumbent Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who also leads the mainly shiite State of Law Coalition is gearing up for election campaigns to win a third term in office as the early voting for Iraq's parliamentary election is to start on Monday.
But many local analysts said that Maliki will face severe challenges in seeking a new term from other electoral entities, including rival Shiite blocs, after his eight years of reign.
MALIKI'S GOAL OF "MAJORITY GOVERNMENT"
In the upcoming parliamentary election, the State of Law Coalition will campaign to form a majority government, strengthen the central rule and strike terrorism.
Maliki's campaign about political majority government is attributed to his willingness to gain more power in running the country after eight years of division between his party and other political rivals, which also was reflected inside his cabinet.
Under relentless violence by mainly Sunni insurgents in the western province of Anbar, and Maliki's differences with the Kurds in the northern region of Kurdistan, Iraqis still suffer from bloodshed, lack of public services and weak government after two four-year terms by Maliki.
In fact, Maliki's focus on a new governance of political majority government aims to persuade the voters that he was not the reason behind any "failure," but it was the kind of weak governance which was used by the political rivals to hamper his efforts.
"Partnership with other political factions has hampered the government performance," Maliki told his supporters during his electoral campaign in Babil province just south of Baghdad.
"We do need these votes to bring about the change and form a strong government which is able to rebuild the country and achieve the stability," he added referring to forming a political majority government.
But many critics said that Maliki didn't elaborate clearly his goal of "political majority government," saying it's unpractical if the government is formed and controlled only by Shiites.
HIGHLY DIVIDED ELECTION COALITION
More than 9,000 candidates from nearly 280 political entities are vying for the 328 parliamentary seats in Iraq's April 30 general election, the first since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country at the end of 2011. According to Iraq's constitution, the "largest bloc" in the parliament will have the right to nominate a prime minister form the cabinet.
But the Federal Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the "largest bloc" can mean either the largest electoral coalition or the largest coalition that is re-formed after the election. The ruling has prompted many major parties and politicians to avoid forming larger electoral coalitions that sometimes include members with conflicting interests.
Although the State of Law Coalition is the only major electoral coalition that was competed in the 2010 parliamentary election, some of its members have chosen to run on separate tickets.
The Citizen Coalition, headed by leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, Ammar al-Hakim, and the Ahrar Coalition, formed by followers of the Islamist populist Sadrist Movement, are the two major blocs competing with the State of Law Coalition for Shiite voters.
The secular Iraqiya coalition, which had many supporters in Sunni areas, has broken up into several groups: the United for Reform Coalition led by parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, the al-Arabiya Coalition led by Deputy Prime Minister Salih al-Mutlak, and the National Coalition led by former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
For the Iraqi Kurds, the two governing parties in the autonomous Kurdish region, the Kurdistan Democratic Party headed by Kurdish regional leader Masoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, have chosen to run on separate lists in most areas.
In addition, there are many other smaller, new or localized political entities that are competing in the upcoming election and expected to win some seats, which might lead to increasing fragmentation of the parliament.
Despite the divided election coalition, local observers believe that the State of Law Coalition will possibly lead in the election this time.
"I think Maliki has a great luck to become prime minister after 2014 election, because his opposition cannot gather the political majority," said Aziz Jaber Shayal, a professor of politics at Baghdad University.
HARD TO FORM A NEW GOVERNMENT
Following the last parliamentary election in March 2010, continuing disputes over vote counting, legal interpretations and alliance negotiations resulted in more than eight months of political deadlock. Many observers said that with so many political powerhouses running on their own in this year's election, the road to form a new government in Iraq this time will be most likely a bumpy one.
"The State of Law will garner the highest number of seats in the election, but there won't be a clear majority for a single coalition," said Saad al-Hadithi, a professor of politics at Baghdad University, adding that Maliki has to ally with other blocs to form a government.
Saad also said that the State of Law Coalition may even choose a new leader to become prime minister if the big ally didn't back Maliki to seek re-election.
Now there are increasing signs that an alliance, mainly including Kurdish blocs, Ahrar Coalition and Citizen Coalition, are coordinating their efforts to prevent Maliki from getting a third term in office. Meanwhile, analysts said Iran also plays a crucial role in deciding the fate of Maliki.
"Iran has strategic links to most of these parties and it has the capability to influence the parties of the National Alliance, and this has happened in the previous elections when it intervened to convince the Supreme Council and the Sadr movement to accept al- Maliki," al-Hadithi said.
Predictions by most observers see that so many uncertainties will make the next stage after the polling results probably very long due to tough negotiations that may prolong the period of Maliki's caretaker government.