Iraqis vote a year early with little hope for change

Published October 11, 2021
BAGHDAD: A woman casts her vote at a polling station on Sunday.—AFP
BAGHDAD: A woman casts her vote at a polling station on Sunday.—AFP

BAGHDAD: Iraqis voted on Sunday in a parliamentary election a year early as a concession to an anti-government protest movement but seen as unlikely to deliver major change to the war-scarred country.

Many of the 25 million eligible voters were expected to boycott the polls amid deep distrust in a political class widely blamed for graft, unemployment and crumbling public services in oil-rich Iraq.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi’s future hangs in the balance, with few observers willing to predict who will come out on top after the usual political haggling between factions that follow Iraqi elections.

“This is an opportunity for change,” Kadhemi said, casting his ballot in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone. “Get out there and vote, change your reality, for Iraq and for your future.”

Three hours before polls were due to close, voter turnout was estimated at just over 30 per cent, electoral commission chief Jalil Adnan said.

Viola von Cramon, who heads a team of EU observers, lamented a “low turnout”. The United Nations also sent observers.

“Unfortunately we have only seen a very low turnout at this point... This is a clear political signal, and one can only hope that it will be heard by the politicians and by the political elite of Iraq,” she said. Few voters expressed enthusiasm among those who queued in the fifth election since the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein with the promise of bringing freedom and democracy.

“We want change,” said Mohammed, 23, who asked not to have his full name published. “I have a degree in Arabic literature but I clean toilets in a restaurant — it’s humiliating.”

Housewife Jimand Khalil, 37, said she hoped her vote would help “to change the current leaders who are incompetent”.

The election was held under tight security in a country where the major parliamentary blocs have armed factions and the militant Islamic State (IS) group has launched deadly suicide attacks this year.

Voters were searched twice at polling stations. Travel between provinces was banned and restaurants, shopping centres and airports closed. The vote was marred by technical problems at some stations, including malfunctioning equipment and fingerprint readers, said the prime minister’s office and journalists.

One soldier was killed and another wounded by “accidental fire” from a fellow soldier at a polling station in Diyala province, east of Baghdad, officials said.

Authorities also reported the arrest of 77 suspects for electoral “violations”.

Preliminary results of the vote are expected within 24 hours, but the final outcome could take 10 days.

Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2021

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