Juan Cole: So Sunnis are threatening a boycott of parliament? Bad move.

Roundup: Historians' Take

... Parliament requires a 2/3s vote to elect a president, who must appoint a prime minister from the coalition with a simple majority. I figure 2/3s as about 184 votes. Allawi and the Sunni Arabs probably won't have more than 50 or 55 seats all told, leaving around 220. The Kurds will have about 50. If we subtract them, we come down to 170. Therefore, an Allawi/Sunni boycott would force the Shiites into another coalition with the Kurds if they are to form a government, and the Kurds can extract promises moderating Shiite fundamentalist policies before they agree. Since the Rejectionist Conference is alleging fraud in "northern cities," probably a euphemism for Kirkuk, it may in fact push the Kurds to ally with the Shiites again, since both have an interest in protecting their electoral victories in their provinces. On the other hand, if the Kurds and the Shiites can do business, then the Allawi/Sunni boycott would become meaningless and would simply deprive them o f a vote in parliament.

Once a Shiite-dominated government is formed, the United Iraqi Alliance could simply vote down its rivals by simple majority, though it would risk a presidential veto if it failed to get a consensus. The president (who likely will be a Kurd and likely will be Jalal Talabani) and the two vice presidents (likely a Sunni Arab and a Shiite) each can exercise a separate veto over legislation for the next 4 years. If the Kurds and the Shiites can find a pliable and complaisant Sunni Arab to serve as vice president, though, they could just run roughshod over the Sunni Arab and secularist minority.

Generally speaking, in parliamentary systems boycotts usually backfire and a poor political strategy. If the Sunni Arabs and secularists were smart, they'd make themselves swing votes in parliament and use their economic power to lobby for policies they want, thus leveraging themselves into great influence. The Sunni Arabs and ex-Baathists were used, however, to ruling by the iron fist from above, and so are hardly canny parliamentarians, and don't know how to make themselves indispensable as a minority. ...

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