What does a low Iraqi vote turnout mean?

October 11, 2021 - 18:44

TEHRAN - Iraq’s electoral commission has announced the preliminary turnout in Sunday’s parliamentary election at 41%. Some observers have said the number is a low turnout, while others say it’s a high turnout considering what country is going through.

The official announcement of the turnout and the winner was supposed to have been declared by Monday afternoon. However, this was delayed multiple times until evening time, with results still unclear because of disputes. These disputes can take up to four days to be settled by Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission.

One of the reasons that have been cited for the low turnout is the new electronic voting system. On Sunday, the system automatically shuts down at 6 pm and cannot be extended any further. Most people stay indoors to avoid the heat during the afternoon, so extending the voting hours until late at night would have likely seen a higher turnout.

Some ballot boxes have been recounted after concerns raised by international ministers.

However, this electronic ballot system is part of the reforms that some protesters had demanded to avoid any alleged vote-rigging, and there is no chance to extend the hours beyond 6 pm.

The new constituency system (also part of the reforms) was intended to boost the popularity of independent candidates against the traditional parties and party leaders. However, independent candidates did not win the number of seats expected, which means parties maintain popular support among the voters.

The popularity of the October Movement, also known as the Tishreen Movement, is not as popular as analysts had anticipated. The turnout would have been higher if they were more popular (the movement formed a party and fielded its candidates). It does appear that not many trust this movement. Despite having started with legitimate demands, the movement split and turned violent, with protesters attacking positions belonging to the country’s armed forces. Many party leaders even published video statements urging voters to choose the candidate based on the services they can provide and not on the party they are affiliated with. In essence, party leaders encouraged voters to pick independent candidates not affiliated with any parties. Still, even that wasn’t enough as the independents did not do well at all.

The bad news for the U.S. is that the new will not change more than 5 percent. On the other hand, some observers say the turnout was pretty good when you consider Iraq has seen two parliamentary elections in the space of three years. More than 250 million security personnel were involved in protecting the election throughout the country. This election involved a lengthy process of pre-registering the voter’s name, taking digital fingerprints, and issuing a card that had to be presented at the voting booth.

Essentially, this new election law allows Iraqis to vote for specific candidates instead of broad party lists. The aim is to make lawmakers more accountable and reenergize the whole electoral process.

For many Iraqis, they have just about had enough with elections and election talk. The whole process is seen as destabilizing the country instead of focusing on the main issues.

Iraqi officials say the focus should be on protecting Iraq’s sovereignty, and only then can better efforts be made to provide better services. Protecting Iraqi sovereignty means bringing security to the country and removing the U.S. military presence, which many Iraqi officials label as an occupation.

They say this American occupation is interfering with the country’s internal affairs, causing sedition and boosting insecurity, which is delaying the whole process of providing more services. There is a strong argument that Baghdad cannot focus on improving its economy when there is no security. At the same time, Iraqi officials link the U.S. occupation to the insecurity in the country and the Daesh Takfiri terror group, which maintains sleeper cells in the country.

Hundreds of international monitors and observers were present across the polling stations. These monitors and observers came from the United Nations, the European Union in addition to regional and international countries. The Independent High Electoral Commission declared no irregularities in the voting system, and the international monitors observed no vote-rigging throughout the whole election process.

That’s bad news for the United States because it means parliament will not swing more than 5 percent in a different direction, the same parliament that passed a bill calling for the expulsion of the United States presence from the country. The bill came following the U.S. act of state terrorism on January 3rd, 2020, at Baghdad International Airport that saw American aircraft struck a convoy that assassinated the deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units, Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis and Iranian Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani. The United Nations labeled the attack as “unlawful” under international law.

Considering that, pretty much, the new parliament is the same as the previous one, in essence, the issue of expelling American forces from the country will remain at the top of the agenda. This is also at the top of the agenda for ordinary Iraqis as they elect the candidates for parliament.

Experts say only when the U.S. military leaves can Iraq also remove insecurity issues from the country and provide the services that many people legitimately ask for.

The next government is expected to be formed in less than 40 days as no party won a majority in the 329 seat legislature, of which more than 3,200 candidates ran. Iraqi elections are often followed by lengthy talks over a president, a prime minister, and a cabinet under the system brought in by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. The New parliamentarians will choose the next prime minister, a job currently held by Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

But getting a majority (165 seats from 329) means negotiations between different parties to form an alliance that exceeds 165 seats. In the past, it’s proven to be a difficult, lengthy task, sometimes taking months to complete. This time officials hope the process will be a matter of weeks.

In addition to removing the U.S. occupation, many challenges await the next government. These include getting rid of security threats from within the country itself and from the outside, raising the employment rate, removing power outages, returning the remaining internally displaced who fled from fighting with Daesh and other basic services to all parts of the country.

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