Record abstention in Iraq undermines the legitimacy of the next Parliament

Abstention has starred in the elections this Sunday in Iraq. Only 25% of potential voters have gone to the polls, according to unofficial estimates. If confirmed, it would be the smallest turnout since the US toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 and opened the doors to a democratic system. The distrust of Iraqis towards their politicians, whom they label as interested and corrupt, has outweighed the guarantees in the management of the vote or the evident improvement in security. The new Parliament will elect Prime Minister and President, but regardless of who occupies its 329 seats, it faces a deep crisis of legitimacy.

A strong security deployment was evident in Baghdad from early in the morning. Unlike the first elections, when Iraqis formed long lines in defiance of the bombs, the entrances to the polling stations remain empty and those who turn out to vote liquidate their duty in a few minutes. Party members predominate, which makes little change to be expected, or those who feel voting as a religious duty.

The Hayder family is an example of this second case. “We made the decision after the fatwa of the Sistani Ayatollah,” explains the father, referring to the spiritual leader of the Shiites (a community that accounts for two-thirds of the 41.5 million Iraqis). They have also agreed on the candidate for whom he, his wife and their three university children (a girl and two boys) have voted. Happy for the duty accomplished, they take a selfie outside the electoral college installed at the Furat School in the Binuk neighborhood. It is 11:30 am and, according to the head of the constituency, 83 of the 15,000 registered voters have cast their ballot.

The elections were brought forward several months in response to the anti-government protests of two years ago. But many Iraqis do not consider that the call offers them free and fair options. Potential candidates were subjected to attacks and intimidation that led them to withdraw. Many so-called independents have been co-opted during the campaign. Even those who vote doubt that the new deputies have the will or the power to improve the country’s living conditions.

In fact, the result is known in advance: the Shiite Islamist parties and their militias will win, as a result of the demographic weight and the sectarian vote. It remains to be seen which of them will win more seats if the movement of the populist cleric Múqtada al Sadr, who opposes all foreign interference, including that of Iran, or his pro-Iranian rivals who, together, may constitute the largest bloc in the country. Camera. In any case, the compromises behind the scenes, not the votes, will be decided by the prime minister.

In the Sadr City neighborhood, fiefdom of Muqtada supporters, the militant vote predominates. Abu Muslim al Kharhi and his mother, Um Montazer, have come from across the city because they recently moved and have not yet been able to change their registration. “We have chosen a candidate who fights against corruption. It is not about new or old faces, as long as they are honest ”, affirms the man, implying that he is a sadrista. Um Montazer is convinced that the changes “only depend on God.”

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Before explaining the voting process, Hayder Khodr Abed, head of the electoral college installed at the Al Sadrain School, points out the distance marks that have been installed on the ground in order to comply with the anticovid protocols. In view of the low influx, they are unnecessary. “We hope it will cheer up throughout the day,” estimates Abed, who has worked for the Electoral Commission since the 2005 constituent elections.

At half a day, the nervousness of the political leaders is perceived. Múqtada urges voters to go to the polls in the afternoon while ensuring that turnout during the first part of the day has been a success. Qais al Khazali, at the head of a rival militia-party, also spoke of success in the early afternoon, while calling for continued voting to protect votes. In Kirkuk, a province disputed between Arabs and Kurds, a leader of this community, Khalid Shwani, asked his countrymen to mobilize at the risk of losing one of their seats due to lack of support.

Only in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiya was there a bit more movement despite the 36-degree temperature that was reached in the early afternoon. The Sunni Arabs, who boycotted the first legislatures, do not want to leave Parliament “in the hands of Iran,” according to Omar, a 28-year-old engineer who has voted for an independent. “We are fed up with injustices and lack of respect for the law,” he declares before a police officer interrupts the interview.

Shortly before the polls closed, several electoral employees were dozing in the Baghdad Institute polling station (female), in the Mansur neighborhood. Barely forty people had voted at each of its eight tables. “The majority, older people; few young people ”, one of the managers admitted sadly. Outside, Ghufran, 30, was disgruntled. Unlike his father, he had not been able to cast a ballot in favor of the pro-reform alliance Tichrin, because he had not updated his biometric data on the electoral card.

The head of the EU Election Observation Mission, the German Viola von Cramon, confirmed that its members had also found “a low voter turnout”. “It is clearly a political signal and we can only hope that Iraq’s political elite will hear it,” Von Cramon told reporters.

Biometric data, satellites and helicopters

It is not enough to have a DNI. Iraqis also need a card with their biometrics to vote. Your fingerprints are checked with it. They then impregnate their index in indelible ink and receive the ballot, actually a sheet with dozens of names. After a screen they proceed to mark the chosen candidate and the ballot is ready to enter the ballot box that electronically reads the vote, in addition to physically storing it.

Measures have also been taken to transmit the results to the Electoral Commission. Each school has a satellite transmitter and, in anticipation of a possible hack, the same data is downloaded onto a USB that is transferred by car or helicopter (depending on the location).

In addition, by lottery and without prior notice, 17 polling stations have been identified for a manual recount. In all of them the data have coincided with the electronic ones. If there had been a difference greater than 5%, all the ballots of the school where the discrepancy had occurred would have been counted.

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