For the second time since the fall of Saddam Hussein and within a few months of the withdrawal of US troops, Iraqis are going to the polls for parliamentary elections on Sunday.
Despite isolated attacks aimed at disrupting the process, this time the run-up to the election has been relatively calm.
Nearly 20 million voters are eligible to take part including 1.4 million Iraqis living abroad.
Three hundred and twent five parliamentary seats must be filled, eight of which are reserved for women.
The number of female candidates is a barometer of trends and changes initiated by the democratic process. There are 1800 women vying for a seat in parliament out of a total of more than 6000 would-be MPs representing a broad spectrum of different religious and political alliances.
In 2005, Sunnis representing 23.6% of the population largely boycotted the elections. This time a much higher turn out is expected effectively rebalancing Iraq’s political scales. Sunnis are engaged in the electoral process which is packed with allegiances and coaltions designed to woo the voters.
The main contenders are:
Current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State Of Law party. A broad-based coaltion of 40 different groupings including Shiites and Sunnis.
Iraqiya, led by Vice-President Tareq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab running on a nationalist platform.
The Iraqi National Alliance, led by the firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
And the Kurdish coalition dominated by two parties which control Kurdistan.
The eventual winner will have to possess the qualities needed to hold the government together. Someone with the ability to forge unlikely alliances.
The voting system of proportional representation is geared to produce leadership by consensus. A Prime Minister acceptable to most if not all.
Only then can parliament set about the business of rebuilding the nation’s shattered infrastructure. A daunting task to be undertaken in tandem with homeland security. American troops are due to handover policing and combat duties to Iraqi forces in six months’ time with a view to a complete withdrawal by 2011.