The news: The month-long election process in India has been grabbing headlines for days, and for good reason. Not only is it the biggest election in the world, but the frontrunner has been linked to deadly ethno-religious persecution of Muslims in the past. As comedian John Oliver pointed out in his brilliant rant, that has great implications for the world's biggest democracy — and western media has barely covered it.
Still, there's another recent election that's received even less coverage in mainstream American media: the presidential and parliamentary elections in Iraq.
On Wednesday, Iraqis cast their votes for the first time since American troops left their soil. It's been a long road, and the campaign period has been marred by bursts of violence. But with 9,000 candidates on various party lists vying for 328 seats, it's likely that no clear winner will emerge and there will be weeks, if not months, of fractured parties coalescing to form voting blocs. Still, the election is over and that's something Iraq can be proud of.
Image Credit: AP
Why this is important? The Iraqi elections come at a fragile time for the country. Sectarian violence between the Sunnis and the Shiites has been on the rise, with 8,800 people dying in last year — the highest count since 2008. In the first three months of this year alone, 2,000 civilians have already died.
And the election itself has been under threat. Suicide bombers have planted themselves at polling stations and even disguised themselves in police and army uniforms to gain entry. At least 14 people were killed in or near polling stations on Wednesday. But even still, 12 million Iraqis braved the dangers and went to the polls, resulting in a voter turnout of 60%.
"The terrorists warned that the elections will not take place and they threatened the Iraqi people who challenged them back," said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is running for his third term. "They launched attacks and many Iraqis were martyred, but our people didn't stop going to cast the ballots."
Image Credit: Getty
What does this means? It will be 20 to 30 days before the results are announced, and the post-election process is not going to be pretty. Sunnis, Shiites and ethnic Kurds are expected to vote down the party line, but each group has different factions as well. No matter what, there won't be a single party winning a majority, which means that the parties must enter into a delicate negotiation process to form a coalition.
But although this election is unlikely to solve Iraq's deep sectarian divide, Wednesday represented a crucial step in protecting the country's fledgling government. The sight of Iraqis refusing to be intimidated by violence should be heartening to all, and their resilience and faith in democracy demonstrate why this was the most important election of the year.