Iraq elections marred by boycott and voter apathy

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BAGHDAD – Iraqis voted on Sunday in parliamentary elections held months earlier than expected as a concession to a popular youth-led uprising against corruption and mismanagement.

But the vote was marked by widespread apathy and a boycott on the part of many young activists who took to the streets of Baghdad and the southern provinces of Iraq at the end of 2019. Tens of thousands of people participated in the protests of mass and were greeted by the security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas. More than 600 people have been killed and thousands injured in just a few months.

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 vote.

Polling stations closed at 6 p.m. (3 p.m. GMT) after 11 a.m. of voting. The results are expected in the next 24 hours, according to the independent body overseeing the Iraqi elections. But negotiations to choose a prime minister to form a government are expected to last weeks, if not months.

It was the sixth election since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Many were skeptical that the independent candidates of the protest movement had a chance against political parties. and entrenched politicians, many of whom were backed by powerful armed militias.

A few minutes after the polling stations closed, fireworks organized by the Baghdad municipality went off in the city’s Tahrir Square, where protesters had set up tents for several months from October 2019. protests fizzled out in February of the following year, due to the security crackdown and later, the coronavirus pandemic.

Today, the square is largely empty. The country faces enormous economic and security challenges, and although most Iraqis yearn for change, few expect it to happen as a result of the elections.

Muna Hussein, a 22-year-old makeup artist, said she boycotted the elections because she didn’t think there was a safe environment “with uncontrolled guns everywhere,” a reference to the predominantly Shiite militias backed by neighboring Iran.

“In my opinion, it is not easy to hold free and fair elections under the current circumstances,” she said.

Amir Fadel, a 22-year-old car dealer, disagreed. “I don’t want those same faces and same parties to come back,” he said after voting in Karradah district in Baghdad.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, whose chances of a second term will be determined by election results, urged Iraqis to vote in large numbers.

“Come out and vote and change 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, which is home to foreign embassies and government offices.

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.

Majority Iraqi Shiite Muslim groups dominate the electoral landscape, with a close race between influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and the Fatah Alliance, led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri, who came second in the previous elections.

The Fatah Alliance is made up of parties and affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, a coordination group of mainly pro-Iranian Shiite militias that rose to prominence during the war against the extremist Sunni group Islamic State. It includes some of the toughest factions backed by Iran, 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.

Earlier on Sunday, al-Sadr voted in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, which was overrun by local journalists. He then drove off in a white sedan without commenting. Al-Sadr, a populist who has a huge following among working-class Iraqi Shiites, won the 2018 election, winning the majority of seats.

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.

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.

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.

The 2018 election saw only 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.

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,” the tea seller joked, referring to the late 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 changed his mind. He put it in his pocket.

“Thank you, I will keep it as a souvenir,” he said.

At that 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.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.


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