- Iraq holds early voting in response to protests
- Many say they will boycott the elections
- Movement led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr set to become parliament’s largest faction
- Iraq safer than years ago but struggling with unemployment and corruption
BAGHDAD, October 10 (Reuters) – Sunday’s Iraqi parliamentary elections saw one of the lowest turnouts in years, election officials said, with low turnout suggesting waning confidence in political leaders and the democratic system set up by the American invasion of 2003.
The established ruling elite, dominated by Shia Islamists, whose most powerful parties have armed wings, should sweep the vote, with the movement led by populist Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, opposing any foreign interference and whose main rivals are the Shiite groups allied with Iran, considered the largest faction in parliament.
Such an outcome would not radically alter the balance of power in Iraq or the wider Middle East, according to Iraqi officials, foreign diplomats and analysts, but for Iraqis it could mean that a former head of the he insurgency and conservative Islamist could increase its influence over the government.
Two election commission officials told Reuters that the nationwide turnout of eligible voters was 19% as of noon. The total turnout was 44.5% in the last elections in 2018. Polling stations closed at 6:00 p.m. (3:00 p.m. GMT)
The first results are expected on Monday, but the final participation figures could be announced on Sunday evening.
However, Iraqi elections are often followed by protracted talks over a president, prime minister and cabinet.
It appears to be the lowest voter turnout since 2003, according to election commission counts at polling stations Reuters visited across the country.
In the city of Sadr in Baghdad, a polling station set up in a girls’ school saw a slow but steady flow of voters.
Election volunteer Hamid Majid, 24, said he voted for his former school teacher, a candidate for the Sadrists.
âShe has educated many of us in the region so that all young people vote for her. It is the hour of the Sadrist movement. The people are with them, âsaid Majid.
The election took place several months earlier under a new law designed to help independent candidates – a response to widespread anti-government protests two years ago.
“The government maneuvers and formation will look the same – the same parties will either come to share power and fail to provide the people with basic services and jobs and on top of that they will continue to silence the This is very worrying, “Renad Mansour of the Iraq Initiative told Chatham House.
The United States, Gulf Arabs and Israel on one side and Iran on the other compete to influence Iraq, providing Tehran with a gateway to support armed allies in Syria and Lebanon. .
The 2003 invasion overthrew Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, and catapulted the country’s Shiite majority and the Kurds, who were oppressed under the autocrat, to power. It sparked years of sectarian violence, including the takeover of a third of the country by the Islamic State between 2014 and 2017.
High school teacher Abdul Ameer Hassan al-Saadi said he boycotted the elections, the first parliamentary polls since the 2019 protests and the crackdown that followed. The protests were brutally suppressed and some 600 people were killed in several months.
“I lost my 17-year-old son Hussain after he was killed by a tear gas canister fired by police during the Baghdad protests,” said al-Saadi, whose house is near a polling station in the predominantly Shiite district of Baghdad. Karrada.
“I will not vote for killers and corrupt politicians because the wound inside me and his mother that we suffered after losing our boy is still bleeding.”
The EU’s chief Iraqi election observer Viola von Cramon said the relatively low turnout meant a lot.
“This is a clear signal, of course political and one can only hope that it will be heard by politicians and the Iraqi political elite,” she told reporters.
Still, some Iraqis have been keen to vote in Iraq’s fifth parliamentary vote since 2003 – and are hoping for a change. In the northern city of Kirkuk, Abu Abdullah said he arrived to vote an hour before the polls opened.
“We expect the situation to improve considerably.” he said.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is not a candidate for the elections, but the negotiations that will follow could still allow him to obtain a second term. Kadhimi, who is seen as pro-West, has no party to back him.
His government called the vote early in response to the 2019 protests.
The Kurds have two main parties that rule the autonomous region of Kurdistan, and the Sunnis this time have two main blocs.
Iraq is safer than it has been in years and violent bigotry has been less prevalent since Iraq defeated the ultra-hardist Sunni Islamic State in 2017 with the help of a military coalition international and Iran. But corruption and mismanagement have left many of the 40 million Iraqis without jobs, healthcare, education and electricity.
Baghdad-based political analyst Ahmed Younis said many Iraqis view the post-Saddam Hussein system of government – based on sectarian power sharing – as a failure. And entrenched corruption and the growing power of unchecked militias deepened the disillusionment.
“Boycott would ultimately be inevitable and that is what happened in today’s elections,” Younis said.
At least 167 parties and more than 3,200 candidates are vying for the 329 seats in parliament, according to the electoral commission.
Reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed; Additional reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk, Aref Mohammed and Mohammed Aty in Basra, Maher Nazeh in Baghdad Writing by John Davison and Michael Georgy; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean and Frances Kerry
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