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Iraq officials vow election will take place on time despite sabotage attempts

Ballot is expected to take place on October 10 as government says it will uphold promise to public

Iraq’s elections will be held as planned on October 10 despite attempts to sabotage the vote, officials and experts told The National.

Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi, who took office in May 2020, promised early elections under pressure from anti-government protesters who took their anger and frustration to the streets in late-2019.

But he said his government had recently thwarted several attempts to fix the parliamentary election.

The government is also fighting attempts to delay the poll from some factions in parliament.

Iraq’s powerful populist cleric Moqtada Al Sadr recently pedalled back on a call to boycott the elections and said his movement would take part to help “end corruption”.

Mr Al Sadr commands millions of followers in Iraq, leading the parliamentary bloc with the biggest number of seats. He portrays himself as a nationalist fighting for the benefit of his country.

His change of heart was not enough to contain calls to delay the election. A flurry of meetings have been held between different political parties in recent weeks to consider a delay, said Renad Mansour, a senior research fellow and project director of the Iraq Initiative at London’s Chatham House think tank.

However, a “decision has been made for the elections to be held on time, and although it’s not 100 per cent officially confirmed, those initial attempts to delay have been put away,” he told The National.

“It was the Sadrists who didn’t want to participate and wanted to delay the elections. However, Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani’s office and international actors were pushing for elections to be held on time,” Mr Mansour said.

Fanar Haddad, a former senior adviser to Mr Al Kadhimi, told The National “there is enough buy-in from most major political actors and enough momentum to make another delay very unlikely.”

“Election campaigns have begun and money is being spent,” he said.

Diplomats also expressed hope the elections would go ahead.

“I do think elections will be held on time. All the key political parties are now on board and there is no reason to delay,” a Western diplomat told The National.

“As the UN Special Representative to the Secretary General [Jeanine Antoinette Plasschaert] had said, the political parties themselves have a role to ensure the process goes well,” the diplomat said.

Low voter turnout due to voter apathy

Experts are predicting low turnout in October due to distrust of the country’s electoral system and believe that it will not deliver the much needed changes they were promised since 2003.

“The new generation of youth, who are less part of the social basis of political parties, don’t really see the point in voting,” Mr Mansour said.

“They don’t believe those political parties represent their interests or basic needs,” he said.

Many Iraqis have lost faith in the ability of elections to deliver change

Fanar Haddad

There is a sense of dissolution in the Iraqi capital with the political process and voting.

To the Iraqi youth this election symbolises the vote for the “same cast of characters and political parties that for almost 20 years have not been able to deliver on basic governance and accountability,” he said.

Mr Haddad said voter apathy remains a significant problem in Iraq.

“This will be post-2003 Iraq’s sixth election. Many Iraqis have lost faith in the ability of elections to deliver change,” Mr Haddad said.

“Low turnout will of course create a self-fulfilling prophecy in that it benefits the existing political elite and ensures the continuation of the status quo,” he said.

However, improvements have been seen in the voting process that includes a new election law and active engagement by the electoral commission, said the Western diplomat.

“This is a more robust and improved process but people need to be persuaded of that if they are to turn out and vote,” he said.

Updated: September 7th 2021, 7:33 AM

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