Iraq closes polling stations with lowest participation in recent years

Barely 41% of the population has exercised their right to vote
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AFP/ASAAD NIAZI  -   A voter shows his ink-stained finger after casting his ballot at a polling station in the southern city of Nasiriyah in Iraq's Dhi Qar province on October 10, 2021.

Iraqi society's weariness has defeated the countless efforts of the political class to increase participation. The figure stands at 41%, the lowest since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003, beating the record set by the 2018 elections in which just over 44% exercised their right to vote. Street protests have been a constant since October 2019, when they resulted in 550 deaths, according to an official report published in July the following year.

Viola von Cramon, the head of the EU election observation mission for Iraq's elections, already pointed out halfway through the election day that the turnout was lower than expected, which was already expected to be slightly lower. On the other hand, she stressed that, despite the low turnout at the polling stations, the elections were taking place in a "calm and peaceful" manner. Speaking to Rudaw news agency, Von Cramon said that the atmosphere in the polling stations was one of pessimism due, among many other problems, to the serious economic crisis in Iraq.

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AFP/ AHMAD AL-RUBAYE - Voters look at their ballots at a polling station in Baghdad, Iraq's capital, during the early parliamentary elections on October 10, 2021.

"The turnout, in relative terms, tells us a lot. It's a signal to politicians and an expectation that they will heed the message," said the chief election observer. Messages urging people to vote from political leaders have had no effect on the population. Iraq's Prime Minister Mostafa al-Kazemi tried to mobilise citizens to no avail: "Vote for Iraq, vote for the future of our next generations". Iraqi society does not see in its political class - nor in its democratic system - the solution to a situation of crisis and conflict that has been going on in the country for years.

Of the 25 million people who have the right to vote in Iraq, barely nine million turned out to vote. The poor state of public services, corruption and the economic crisis are the three main issues holding society back. Moreover, the long history of fraud and manipulation in the elections does not suggest that this time it will be any different. However, the spokesperson for Iraq's Supreme Electoral Commission, Jumana al-Galai, told EFE that the new cards, as well as new security measures, would guarantee the electoral process.

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AFP/ AHMAD AL-RUBAYE - Iraqi election officials carry out electronic vote counting at a polling station in the Sadr City district of the capital Baghdad on October 10, 2021.

This statement has not managed to generate sufficient confidence among the population, which has seen on numerous occasions how their vote has been useless. In this case, the elections were called early due to the protests that flooded the streets at the end of 2019. The low turnout has generated much concern among political leaders who see the future government as lacking credibility and legitimacy. But the fundamental reason for the low interest in electing a new leader is largely due to the minimal, if not non-existent change in the political landscape for more than a decade.

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AFP/ AHMAD AL-RUBAYE - Iraqi election officials conduct a manual recount of votes in a randomly selected ballot box, as part of the verification process for the electronic recount, at a polling station in the capital Baghdad on October 10, 2021.

According to the first exit polls, the situation does not seem likely to change much after the elections. The data collected by some local media point to the formation of the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who would once again win, as he did in 2018. On that occasion he won 54 of the 329 seats in Iraq's parliament. More than 3,000 candidates and 170 parties ran in the elections this time, something that has not managed to change the idea instilled in a large part of the population, which says its politics has "the presence of the same faces for the last 15 years", in declarations to EFE.