Low turnout in the election of Iraqis in parliamentary elections
- Iraq holds early vote in response to protests
- Many say they will boycott the election
- Movement led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is set to become the largest faction in parliament
- Iraq is safer than it has been for years, but is struggling with unemployment and corruption
BAGHDAD, Oct. 10 (Reuters) – Iraq held a general election on Sunday, which saw one of the lowest turnouts ever, election officials declared Invasion.
The established, Shiite-Islamist-dominated ruling elite, whose most powerful parties have armed wings, are expected to win the votes Shiite groups allied with Iran, considered the largest faction in parliament.
Such an outcome would not dramatically change the balance of power in Iraq or the wider Middle East, say Iraqi officials, foreign diplomats and analysts, but for Iraqis it could mean that a former insurgent and conservative Islamist could increase his influence on the government.
In Baghdad’s Sadr City, a polling station set up in a girls’ school saw a slow but steady influx of voters.
Election worker Hamid Majid, 24, said he voted for his old school teacher, a candidate for the Sadrists.
“She trained many of us in the area so that all young people would vote for her. It is the time for the Sadristic Movement. The people are with them, ”said Majid.
Two electoral commission officials told Reuters that the nationwide turnout was 19 percent by noon. In the last election in 2018, the turnout was 44.5 percent. The polling stations closed at 6 p.m. (1500 GMT).
It appeared to be the lowest turnout since 2003, according to polling commissions at polling stations that Reuters visited across the country.
The elections will take place several months earlier due to a new law in support of independent candidates – a response to the mass protests against the government two years ago.
High school teacher Abdul Ameer Hassan al-Saadi said he boycotted the election.
“I lost my 17-year-old son Hussain after he was killed by a tear gas canister fired by police during the protests in Baghdad,” said al-Saadi, whose house is near a polling station in the mainly Shiite Baghdad district of Karrada .
“I’m not going to vote for murderers and corrupt politicians because the wound in me and his mother that we suffered after we lost our boy is still bleeding.”
European Union senior Iraqi election observer Viola von Cramon said the relatively low turnout meant a lot.
“This is a clear signal, of course a political one, and one can only hope that it will be heard by Iraqi politicians and the political elite,” she told reporters.
Nonetheless, some Iraqis wanted to vote in Iraq’s fifth parliamentary election since 2003 – and hope for a change. In the northern city of Kirkuk, Abu Abdullah said he came to vote an hour before polling stations opened.
“We assume that the situation will improve significantly.” he said.
At least 167 parties and more than 3,200 candidates are competing for the 329 seats in parliament, according to the electoral commission. Iraqi elections are often followed by lengthy talks about a president, a prime minister and a cabinet.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is not running for election, but post-vote negotiations could lead him to a second term. Kadhimi, who is considered friendly to the West, has no party that supports him.
The Kurds have two main parties ruling the Kurdistan Autonomous Region, and Sunnis have two main blocs this time around.
As he cast his vote, Kadhimi told reporters, “I call on the Iraqis: there is still time. Go out there and vote for Iraq and vote for your future. “
Kadhimi’s government prematurely called the vote in response to protests in 2019 that toppled the previous government.
Protesters’ demands included the removal of a ruling elite that most Iraqis consider corrupt. The demonstrations were brutally suppressed and around 600 people were killed over several months.
Iraq is safer than it has been for years and violent sectarianism has been less prevalent since Iraq defeated the Sunni ultra-hardline Islamic State in 2017 with the help of an international military coalition and Iran. But corruption and mismanagement have left many of Iraq’s 40 million people lacking jobs, health care, education and electricity.
“Why won’t I vote? Because I don’t trust the people. What did those we voted do?” Asked Mohammed Hassan, a resident of Basra. “Look at the trash, the filth … The previous government’s projects, where are they?”
The United States, Gulf Arabs and Israel on one side, and Iran on the other, are competing for influence over Iraq, which provides Tehran with a gateway to support armed allies in Syria and Lebanon.
The 2003 invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, and catapulted to power the majority of the country’s Shiites and Kurds, who were oppressed under Saddam. It sparked years of sectarian violence, including the Islamic State’s takeover of a third of the country between 2014 and 2017.
Additional reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud in Kirkuk and Aref Mohammed in Basra and Mohammed Aty in Basra and Maher Nazeh in Baghdad; Writing by John Davison and Michael Georgy Editing by William Mallard, Frances Kerry, Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean
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