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Voting closes early in Iraq after mass protests

By PTI

Baghdad: Voting closed across Iraq on Sunday evening in parliamentary elections held months ahead of schedule in response to a popular uprising against corruption and mismanagement.

In late 2019 the vote was boycotted by many youth activists who took to the streets and reports of low turnout.

Tens of thousands of people took part in the massive protests 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 conceded and called off the elections prematurely, the death toll and heavy crackdown – as well as a string of targeted killings – prompted many who took part in the protests to call for a boycott of the subsequent elections. inspired to.

Results are expected within the next 48 hours, according to the independent body that oversees Iraq’s elections.

Negotiations are expected to go on for months to choose a prime minister tasked with forming the government.

Voting began early Sunday in a contest held for the sixth time since the fall of Saddam Hussein since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and produced a sectarian-based power-sharing political system.

A total of 3,449 candidates are in the fray for 329 seats in the parliamentary elections.

Apathy is widespread amid deep suspicion that independent candidates stand a chance against established parties and politicians, many of them backed by powerful armed militias.

Most Iraqis yearn for change, but few expect it to happen.

“I don’t want the same faces and the same parties to return,” said 22-year-old car dealer Amir Fadel after casting his vote in Baghdad’s Karrdah district. More than 250,000 security personnel across the country were tasked with protecting the vote.

Soldiers, police and counter-insurgency forces were thrown out and deployed outside polling stations, some of which were tied up with barbed wire.

Voters were patted on their backs and searched.

Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi urged Iraqis to vote in large numbers.

“Get out and vote, and change your reality for Iraq and your future,” said al-Kadhimi, repeating the phrase “get out”, casting his ballot at a school in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, home. After three times to foreign embassies and government offices.

Only 44% of eligible voters cast their ballots in the 2018 elections, a record low, and the results were widely contested.

This time it is expected that the turnout will be equal or even less.

By noon, turnout was still relatively low and the roads were mostly deserted.

In some areas, mosque loudspeakers were used to urge Iraqis to vote.

Candidates sent encouraging push notifications and audio messages on WhatsApp groups and Telegram chat rooms.

At a tea stall in Karrdah, candidate Reem Abdulhadi, one of the few open candidates, asked if people had cast their vote.

“I will give my vote to Umm Kaltoum, the singer, she is the only one who deserves it,” replied the tea seller, referring to the late Egyptian singer beloved by many in the Arab world.

He said that he will not participate in the elections and does not believe in the political process.

After a few words, Abdulhadi handed the man, who asked to remain anonymous, a card with his name and number in case he decided to change his mind.

He kept it in his pocket.

“Thanks, I’ll keep it as a souvenir,” he said.

At that time, a low-flying, high-speed military aircraft flew overhead, making a hoarse noise.

He said, “Listen to it. This voice is terror. It reminds me of war, not of elections.”

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, Iraq’s influential cleric Muktada al-Sadr cast his vote among a bunch of local journalists.

Then he moved into a white sedan without commenting.

Al-Sadr, a populist who has a huge following among Iraq’s working-class Shi’ites, came out on top in the 2018 elections, winning a majority.

Groups of Iraq’s majority Shia Muslims dominate the electoral landscape, with hopes of a tight race between al-Sadr’s list and the Fatah coalition, led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri, who came second in the last election. .

The Fatah Alliance consists of parties 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.

It includes some of the most staunch pro-Iranian 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 winner of Sunday’s vote has the right to choose the country’s next prime minister, but it is unlikely that any of the competing coalitions can win a clear majority.

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

It took eight months of political wrangling to form the government after the 2018 elections.

The election is the first to go ahead without a curfew since the fall of Saddam, marking a significant improvement in the security situation in the country since the IS defeat in 2017.

Past votes were marred by fighting and deadly bomb attacks that have plagued the country for decades.

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