‘Corrupt politicians’ blamed for low turnout at early Iraq election

Iraq experienced a record low turnout at the polls yesterday as voters shunned early parliamentary elections intended to assuage anti-corruption protesters.

arly figures showed turnout hovering around 19pc, in a clear victory for campaigners who called for a boycott of the poll in protest at the status quo. Turnout at the last election was 44pc.

Opinion polls before the vote suggested the main Shia Muslim factions would take the most seats, with the movement led by the powerful cleric Muqtada al-Sadr expected to emerge as parliament’s biggest single faction.

Such a result would not dramatically alter the balance of power in Iraq or the wider Middle East, say Iraqi officials, foreign diplomats and analysts, but for Iraqis it could mean that a former insurgency leader and conservative Islamist could increase his sway over the government.

Full results are expected to be announced this evening.

Yesterday’s vote was the sixth time Iraq went to the polls since the 2003 US invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, and the first since massive youth-led protests erupted in 2019.

About 600 people were killed by security forces in an attempt to crush those protests, and many in the movement called for a boycott of the election.

“I lost my 17-year-old son Hussain after he got killed by a tear-gas canister fired by police during Baghdad protests,” said Abdul Ameer Hassan al-Saadi, a high school teacher.

“I will not vote for killers and corrupt politicians because the wound inside me and his mother we suffered after losing our boy is still bleeding.”

In a concession to the protest movement, the election was called six months early and held under a new electoral law designed to weaken the grip of the entrenched elite and open up space for independent candidates.

More than 600 international observers were in place across the country and new biometric fingerprint scanning voting cards were brought in.

Viola von Cramon, the head of the European Union’s election observer mission, said of the low turnout: “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.”

Iraqi elections are often followed by protracted talks over a president, a prime minister and a cabinet.

It appeared to be the lowest turnout in any election since 2003, according to electoral commission counts at polling stations across the country.

In Baghdad’s Sadr City, a polling station set up in a girls’ school had a slow but steady trickle of voters.

Election volunteer Hamid Majid (24) said he had voted for his old school teacher, a candidate for the Sadrists.

“She educated many of us in the area so all the young people are voting for her. It’s the time for the Sadrist Movement. The people are with them,” Mr Majid said.

“Jockeying and government formation will look the same – the same parties will come to either to share power and not provide the population with basic services and jobs and on top of that will continue to silence dissent. It’s very concerning,” said Renad Mansour of the Iraq Initiative at the Chatham House think tank in Britain.

 The 2003 invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, and catapulted to power the country’s majority Shi’ites and the Kurds, who were oppressed under the autocrat. It unleashed years of sectarian violence.

(©Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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