Iraqis cast ballots hoping for change but few expect to happen - GulfToday

Iraqis cast ballots hoping for change but few expect to happen


Iraqi Kurdish women show photographers their inked fingers after casting their votes at polling stations in Arbil and Baghdad on Sunday. AFP / Reuters

Gulf Today Report

Iraqis cast ballots on Sunday for a new parliament in a vote boycotted by many of the young activists who thronged the streets two years earlier calling for an end to corruption and mismanagement.

The vote had been scheduled for next year but was brought forward in response to the popular uprising in the capital of Baghdad and southern provinces in late 2019.

A total of 3,449 candidates are vying for 329 seats in the parliamentary elections, which will be the sixth held since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the sectarian-based power-sharing political system it produced.

Under Iraq’s laws, the winner of Sunday’s vote gets to choose the country’s next prime minister, but it’s unlikely any of the competing coalitions can secure a clear majority.

That will require a lengthy process involving backroom 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 elections.

Kurd-poll-officialsAn Iraqi Kurdish voter registers before casting his vote at a polling station in Sulaimaniyah. AFP

In another first, Sunday’s election is taking place under a new election law that divides Iraq into smaller constituencies — another demand of the activists who took part in the 2019 protests — and allows for more independent candidates.

More than 250,000 security personnel across the country were tasked with protecting the vote. Soldiers, police and anti-terrorism forces fanned out and deployed outside polling stations, some of which were ringed by barbed wire. Voters were patted down and searched.

Iraq’s President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi urged Iraqis to vote in large numbers.

Iraqifamily-voteA couple shows their ink-stained fingers after casting their vote at a polling station in Dohuk. AFP

"Get out and vote, and change your reality for the sake of Iraq and your future,” said Kadhimi, repeating the phrase ‘get out’ three times after casting his ballot at a school in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home to foreign embassies and government offices.

"I voted because there needs to be change. I don’t want these same faces and same parties to return,” said Amir Fadel, a 22-year-old car dealer, after casting his ballot in Baghdad’s Karradah district.

In Baghdad's Sadr City, a polling station set up in a girls’ school saw a slow but steady trickle of voters. Election volunteer Hamid Majid, 24, said he had voted for his old school teacher, a candidate for the Sadrists.

"She educated many of us in the area so all the young people are voting for her. It’s the time for the Sadrist Movement. The people are with them,” Majid said.

Kurd-electionA Kurdish voter registers before casting his ballot  at a polling station in Sulaimaniyah. AFP

The 2018 elections saw just 44% of eligible voters cast their ballots, a record low, and the results were widely contested. There are concerns of a similar or even lower turnout this time.

By midday, turnout was still relatively low and streets mostly deserted. In a tea shop in Karradah, one of the few open, candidate Reem Abdulhadi walked in to ask whether people had cast their vote.

"I will give my vote to Umm Kalthoum, the singer, she is the only one who deserves it,” the tea vendor replied, referring to the late Egyptian singer beloved by many in the Arab world. He said he will not take part in the election and didn’t believe in the political process.

KurdcoupleIraqi Kurds show their ink-stained fingers after casting their vote at a polling station in Dohuk city. AFP

After a few words, Abdulhadi gave the man, who asked to remain anonymous, a card with her 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 that moment, a low-flying, high-speed military aircraft flew overhead making a screeching noise. "Listen to this. This sound is terror. It reminds me of war, not an election,” he added.

In the Shiite city of Najaf, Iraq’s influential cleric Moqtada Al Sadr cast his ballot, swarmed by local journalists. He then drove away in a white sedan without commenting. Al Sadr, a populist who has an immense following among Iraq’s working class Shiites, came on top in the 2018 elections, winning a majority of seats.

Groups drawn from Iraq’s majority Shiite dominate the electoral landscape, with a tight race expected between al-Sadr’s list and the Fatah Alliance, led by paramilitary leader Hadi Al Ameri, which came in second in the previous election.

EU-observer-IraqViola Von Cramon (R) visits a polling station during the parliamentary election in Baghdad. Reuters 

The Fatah Alliance is comprised of parties affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly pro-Iran Shiite militias that rose to prominence during the war against the Sunni extremist Islamic State group. It includes some of the most hard-line 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 its political influence.

A UN Security Council resolution adopted earlier this year authorised 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 Iraq’s estimated 38 million people are eligible to vote.


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