The country celebrates the fifth elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein amid strong security measures and without major incidents, but only 30% of the population goes to the polls
Iraqis responded on Sunday with low turnout to calls from their political and religious leaders to go to the polls. If tens of thousands of people took to the streets in October 2019 to demand jobs, social improvements and the end of the sectarian system, two years later the protest was repeated, although this time in the form of a boycott of the legislative elections. The head of the electoral commission, Galeel Adnan, told the AFP agency shortly before the closing of schools that the influx was around “30%”, the worst figure in the history of the country and a reflection of the general exhaustion of the population with the system in force since the 2003 US invasion. In the previous elections, held in 2018, 44.5% of the census turned out to vote.
Iraqis held their fifth elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein amid tight security and without major incidents. Security has been consolidated since the military victory over the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) and Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi did not wait a second to take to Twitter and celebrate that “we have kept our word and have had clean and safe elections” . But the former journalist and former intelligence chief did not refer to the apathy shown by voters, especially young people.
Kadhimi took over the reins of the country after the resignation of Adil Abdul Mahdi, who had to leave office due to strong protests in the streets. This resignation and the electoral advance were the two great achievements of the so-called “October Movement,” which two years later called the country for a boycott and its message was strong.
The “October Movement”
“I cannot vote, I cannot walk in a school on the blood of the 700 martyrs that we lost during the mobilizations at the hands of the security forces and the militias, it is a day to stay at home and ask everyone to do the same” . They were the words of Hussein Karim, Baghdad artist of the “October Movement,” first thing in the morning. The capital woke up deserted and taken over by the security forces, Army fighters made several passes at very low altitude, the airport and land borders were closed and traffic between provinces was prohibited.
The first to cast their ballots were the prime minister, the Shiite cleric Muqtada Al Sader, the leader of the movement that won the 2018 elections and wants to curb Iranian interference, and the rest of prominent political figures. Despite their enormous internal differences, this time politicians of all sects and ethnic groups reached an agreement and launched the same message to the media calling Iraqis to the polls. But the majority response of the people was silence, a silence that even extended to the call of Grand Ayatollah Sistani, who also asked his followers to participate.
Look To The Future
The electoral commission selected a series of colleges in which the press could work with cameras and one of them was Khaled Ibn Wallid in Adamia, a central and very popular neighborhood in the capital. Lemiah Dia went to vote for the first time and the first thing that caught her attention was the tranquility that was breathed on the second floor of the school, with more election observers than voters. The few young men who saw each other were precisely observers. “I do not want to lose hope, I trust in a clean process and in leaving behind as soon as possible all the problems that we have suffered since 2003, it is time to look to the future, right?”, One of them asked without much conviction in the middle of a deserted corridor.
Ali, 55, asked for “improvement in the living conditions of citizens, electricity, water … how can it be that we have been waiting for electricity 24 hours a day for 18 years?”, Another unanswered question that is lost in the sea of corruption established in the post-Saddam era. His wife, Mariam, aspired to “maintain the security situation and we can have a normal life.”
For Marsin Alshamary, an Iraqi political analyst at the Belfer Center at Harvard Kennedy School, one of the great surprises was to see that “not even Sistani’s appeal has served to mobilize the population.” He continued the day in Baghdad and, in the face of messages of euphoria on social networks about the triumph of the boycott, he warns that “no matter how low the participation is, the system continues and the results must be accepted. We will once again have a coalition government with the same faces and the status quo will be maintained, although I fear that the protests will return because the underlying problems remain unsolved.
329 seats and 83 women
The counting of votes in Iraq is underway and each party does its math to think about the games of alliances that will allow them to reach the majority necessary to form a new government in a chamber with 329 seats. Of these, 83 are intended for women. Despite the multiple threats and humiliations they have suffered during the electoral campaign, a total of 951 are standing in the parliamentary elections this Sunday – to form a new Government.
With the major Shiite parties at odds, the process can take weeks or months and, as Alshamary warns, the serious problems that blew up the country’s streets in October 2019 remain unsolved. Prime Minister Al Khadimi did not appear in the elections, but it is not ruled out that it is once again the consensus letter that some and others use so that the system, despite the blow to credibility and legitimacy suffered by low participation, continues to function .