Preliminary results show record low turnout in Iraq election

By The Associated Press

Baghdad: Iraq saw a record low turnout since the US-led invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein from power, the independent body that oversees the election said on Monday.

Preliminary results indicate widespread discontent and distrust in the vote for a new parliament later this week.

The election was held months ahead of time as a concession to the youth-led popular rebellion against corruption and mismanagement.

But the vote was seen as widespread apathy and boycott by the same youth activists who called for change and new elections in late 2019 in the streets of Baghdad and Iraq’s southern provinces.

The Independent High Electoral Commission said on Monday that preliminary results showed 41 percent of the voter turnout was recorded in Sunday’s election.

This is down from 44 per cent in the 2018 elections, the lowest level ever.

Thousands protested in late 2019 and early 2020, and security forces fired ammunition and tear gas.

In a matter of months more than 600 people were killed and thousands were injured.

Although officials gave up and called for an early election, the death toll and heavy crackdown – as well as a string of targeted killings – prompted many protesters to call for a boycott of the vote afterward.

More definite results were expected later on Monday, but talks to choose a prime minister tasked with forming the government are expected to last weeks or months.

The election was the sixth since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Many suspected that the protest movement’s independent candidates stood a chance against well-established parties and politicians, many of them supported by powerful armed militias.

There was a clear reluctance among the country’s largest demographic – young Iraqis – to get out and vote.

Many said the election would only bring back the faces and parties responsible for the corruption and mismanagement that have plagued Iraq for decades.

The problems have left the country with crumbling infrastructure, rising poverty and rising unemployment rates.

Groups of Iraq’s majority Shia Muslim factions were hoping to come out on top, with the country’s influential Shia cleric Muktada al-Sadr and the Fatah coalition led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri expected to see a tight race.

Consisting of Fatah Alliance parties and affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly pro-Iranian Shia militias that rose to prominence during the war against the Sunni extremist Islamic State group.

This includes some of the harshest Iran-backed factions such as the Assab Ahl al-Haq militia.

The black-turbaned nationalist leader al-Sadr is also close to Iran, but publicly dismisses its political influence.

Under Iraq’s laws, the party that wins the most seats has the right to choose the country’s next prime minister, but it is unlikely that any of the competing coalitions can achieve a clear majority.

This would require a lengthy process that has involved previous negotiations to select a consensus prime minister and agree on a new coalition government.

Iraq’s current prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, has played a key role in crises in the region, particularly as a mediator between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Many in the region and beyond will be watching to see if he will secure a second term.

The new parliament will also elect Iraq’s next president.

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