BAGHDAD / JEDDAH: Turnout plunged to an all-time high in Iraq’s parliamentary elections on Sunday amid a widespread boycott by voters disillusioned with corruption, a crippled economy and failing public services.
Election commission officials said the nationwide turnout of eligible voters was 19% at noon, up from 44.5% in the last election in 2018.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi’s government called elections early in response to protests in October 2019 that toppled the previous administration.
Demonstrators’ demands included the withdrawal of a ruling elite that most Iraqis consider corrupt. The protests were brutally suppressed and around 600 people were killed.
Although authorities caved in and called for snap elections, the death toll and brutal crackdown – along with a spate of targeted assassinations – prompted many protests to later call for a boycott of the polls.
The results are expected in the next 48 hours, according to the independent body overseeing the Iraqi elections. Negotiations to choose a prime minister to form a government are expected to drag on for months.
Voting began early Sunday in a contest that was the sixth held since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the sectarian power-sharing political system it produced.
In total, 3,449 candidates are running for 329 seats in the legislative elections. Apathy is rampant amid deep skepticism that independent candidates stand a chance against established parties and politicians, many of whom are backed by powerful armed militias.
More than 250,000 security guards across the country have been tasked with protecting the ballot. Soldiers, police and counterterrorism forces deployed and deployed outside the polling stations, some of which were surrounded by barbed wire. Voters were searched and searched.
Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi urged Iraqis to vote in large numbers.
“Come out and vote, and change your reality for the good of Iraq and your future,” Al-Kadhimi said, repeating the phrase, “come out” three times after voting at a school in the heavily fortified green zone of Baghdad, home to foreign embassies and government offices.
The 2018 election only saw 44% of eligible voters cast their ballot, a record, and the results were widely disputed. We fear a similar or even lower participation this time.
Most Iraqis yearn for change, but few expect it to happen. Some voted in the hope of eliminating corrupt politicians.
“I don’t want those same faces and same parties coming back,” Amir Fadel, a 22-year-old car dealer, said after voting in Karradah district in Baghdad.
Abdul Ameer Hassan Al-Saadi, a teacher who lives in Baghdad district of Karrada, was one of many to boycott Sunday’s elections. “I lost my 17-year-old son, Hussain, after he was killed by a tear gas canister fired by police during protests in Baghdad,” he said.
“I will not vote for killers and corrupt politicians because the wound inside me and his mother after losing our boy is still bleeding.”
In the southern city of Basra, Mohammed Hassan said: “Why won’t I vote? Because I don’t trust people. Those we elected, what did they do? Look at the garbage, the grime … The projects of the previous government, where are they?
In a tea room in Karradah, one of the few open, candidate Reem Abdulhadi entered to ask if people had voted.
“I will give my vote to Umm Kalthoum, the singer, she is the only one who deserves it,” replied the tea seller, referring to the deceased Egyptian singer loved by many in the Arab world. He said he would not participate in the elections and that he did not believe in the political process.
After a few words, Abdulhadi gave the man, who asked to remain anonymous, a card with his name and number in case he decided to change his mind. He put it in his pocket.
“Thank you, I will keep it as a souvenir,” he said.
At noon, turnout was still relatively low and the streets mostly deserted. In some areas, mosque loudspeakers have been used to encourage Iraqis to vote. Applicants sent encouraging push notifications and audio messages to Whatsapp groups and Telegram discussion boards.
At this moment, a military plane flying at low speed and at high speed flew over the sky with a shrill noise. “Listen to this. This sound is terror. It reminds me of war, not an election,” he added.
In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, the influential Iraqi cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr voted, surrounded by local journalists. He then drove off in a white sedan without commenting. Al-Sadr, a populist with immense followers among working-class Iraqi Shiites, won the 2018 election, winning the majority of seats.
Groups drawn from the majority of Iraqi Shiite Muslims dominate the electoral landscape, with a close race expected between Al-Sadr’s list and the Fatah Alliance, led by paramilitary leader Hadi Al-Ameri, who came second in the elections. previous elections.
The Fatah Alliance is made up of parties affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, a coordination group of predominantly pro-Iranian Shiite militias that rose to prominence during the war against the extremist Sunni group Daesh. It includes some of the toughest pro-Iran factions, such as the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq militia. Al-Sadr, a black-turbaned nationalist leader, is also close to Iran, but publicly rejects his political influence.
Under Iraqi laws, the winner of Sunday’s vote can choose the country’s next prime minister, but it is unlikely that any of the competing coalitions can secure a clear majority. This will require a long process involving behind-the-scenes negotiations to select a consensus prime minister and agree on a new coalition government. It took eight months of political wrangling to form a government after the 2018 election.
The election is the first since Saddam’s fall to take place without a curfew, reflecting the significant improvement in the security situation in the country following the defeat of ISIS in 2017. Previous votes have been marred by fighting and deadly bomb attacks in the country. for decades.
As a security measure, Iraq closed its airspace and land border crossings and mobilized its air forces from Saturday evening to early Monday morning.
In another first, Sunday’s elections are being held under a new electoral law that divides Iraq into smaller constituencies – another request from activists who took part in the 2019 protests – and allows for more independent candidates.
A UN Security Council resolution passed earlier this year authorized an expanded team to monitor the elections. There will be up to 600 international observers in place, including 150 from the United Nations. More than 24 million of the 38 million Iraqis have the right to vote.
Iraq is also introducing biometric cards for voters for the first time. But despite all of these measures, allegations of voice-buying, intimidation and manipulation have persisted.