“We want real change”: Iraqis vote in early elections as a test for democracy

Polling stations across Iraq have opened for early elections, many of which hope they will bring much-needed reforms amid heightened security that has deployed more than 250,000 workers across the country who have closed airspace, land borders and inland roads.

Fighter jets screamed over Baghdad as polling stations opened their doors on Sunday morning for voters to choose from 3,449 candidates vying for 329 seats in parliament.

It’s the fifth national vote since Saddam Hussein was overthrown in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. It’s also seven months early: a key demand for a popular uprising that broke out in 2019.

The Tishreen movement has seen tens of thousands of people take to the streets to protest against endemic corruption, crumbling infrastructure, rising unemployment and the proliferation of armed groups. However, the rallies were met with deadly force by security forces: more than 600 people were killed and thousands injured in just a few months.

The country’s new prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, eventually bowed to the uprising’s demands for an early vote and a new electoral law. Even so, young activists called for a boycott of the elections that they believe are once again dominated by the political old guard.

A series of violent disappearances and targeted attacks that resulted in the death of more than 30 people continued to deter voters from participating.

At a polling station in a mixed neighborhood of Baghdad, voters said The independent one they feared that the elections would bring no change.

“I’m voting for ‘Imtidad’ and I hope my vote won’t let me down this time, but I’m pessimistic,” said Arshad Yasir, 40, referring to a new political party made up of activists who are on-going Protests.

“People have not learned the lesson in the past 18 years that all politicians are bad and corrupt after 2003,” he added

“I want to see real change. I want Iraq to be freed from arms and instead its children used to build and develop infrastructure, industry and agriculture. “

There are concerns that voter turnout may be lower than in the 2018 election, which was already a record low, with only 44% of the 24 million or eligible voters in Iraq casting their vote.

Iraqi leaders and religious figures tried to win support for the elections. Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a widely respected authority, called for a high turnout and said the elections remain the best way for Iraqis to help shape the future of their country.

The country’s prime minister reiterated the message when he cast his vote at a school in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone on Sunday.

“Go out and choose and change your reality in the interests of Iraq and your future,” Kadhimi said repeatedly.

“To those who hesitate, trust in God and go and choose those who you think fit,” he added. “This is our chance for reform.”

I want to see real change, rid Iraq of weapons and instead use its children to build and develop infrastructure, industry and agriculture

Arshad Yasir, voter in Baghdad

Many predict a close race between the Sadr movement, founded by the influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr and winning the 2018 race, and the Fatah Alliance, led by paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri, who won the last election took second place.

The sadristic movement, which has an armed wing called Saraya al-Salam, originally planned to boycott the election, but returned in full force and nominated 95 candidates.

Marwa Raheem Atya, a sadistic candidate in the southern city of Nassiriya, told the story The independent one They hope to almost double the number of seats they secured in 2018.

“I have full confidence in our leader who is bringing about change in Iraq, we have a clever and strong captain of the ship,” she said.

“We promise to make Iraq a country for Iraqis and to tighten uncontrolled access to weapons,” she added.

It is the first time that a vote has taken place under the country’s new electoral law, which divides Iraq into 83 smaller constituencies.

However, these new parties include those with alleged links to the powerful armed factions in Iraq who are raising concerns.

Hussein Muanis, once security chief of Kataib Hezbollah, the country’s toughest Shiite parliamentary militia, founded the Harakat Huqooq, or Rights Movement, which nominates 32 candidates and promotes an electoral program that focuses on the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Experts say that due to Mr. Muanis’ KH affiliation, this signals the militant group’s formal entry into politics, which KH has vehemently denied.

(Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Muthana Fayhan, a Harakat Huqooq candidate for Baghdad, said The independent one they have nothing to do with the armed group.

“Mr. Muanis is an independent, his program is very clear to turn away from any sectarian divisions and create an Iraq for all Iraqis, whether they are Sunnis, Shiites or Christians.

It is also the first time that European Union observers are overseeing the voting portion of up to 600 international observers, including 150 from the United Nations.

This vote is also the first time the country has introduced biometric cards for voters to prevent misuse of electronic voter cards: they will be disabled for 72 hours after each election to avoid double voting.

But despite all these measures, there are still allegations of vote buying, intimidation and manipulation. And some people reported that the new electronic system was not working.

The head of the Iraqi election commission has announced that the first election results will be announced within 24 hours.

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