Iraq on the brink of change

Nermeen Al-Mufti in Baghdad , Thursday 21 Oct 2021

Political tensions are continuing in Iraq, with some of the country’s political blocs and parties contesting the results of the recent general elections.

Iraq on the brink of change
Iraqi supporters of the pro-Iran Hashed Al-Shaabi alliance wave national flags as they take part in a protest denouncing the results of Iraq s parliamentary elections and calling for a new vote in Baghdad

By the time this article is published, the process of receiving appeals against the Iraqi elections results will have ended. Five days afterwards, the Iraqi Board of Commissioners is supposed to have finished considering them.

Emad Jamil, a member of the media office of Iraq’s Independent Higher Electoral Commission (IHEC), said in a press conference that “after the appeals being considered by the IHEC Board of Commissioners over a period of seven days, they will be considered by the judicial authority for a period of 10 days.”

“After the complete consideration of the appeals and approval of the results, the names of the 329 winning candidates will be announced before they are submitted to the Federal Court.”

Despite such arrangements, political tensions are continuing in Iraq after some blocs and political parties rejected the results of the elections and their followers began protests against what they said was fraud, demanding a manual recount of votes cast at polling stations across Iraq.

The tensions began within hours of the preliminary results being announced on 11 October, showing that the Sadrist Bloc had won 73 seats in parliament. To calm the tensions, the IHEC announced that six per cent of polling stations had experienced technical problems, and their votes would be counted manually.

During this period, the blocs and political parties that had rejected the results met and announced a coordinating framework for a number of large blocs whose presence in the new parliament has become almost marginal in the light of the election results. They include the State Forces Alliance, led by former prime minister Haider Abbadi, the Al-Nasr bloc, and Ammar Al-Hakim’s National Wisdom Movement that only won four seats in the elections.

In the 2018 elections, Abbadi’s bloc had 42 seats in parliament, while Hakim’s had 29. The Al-Fateh bloc led by Hadi Al-Amiri won 17 seats in this year’s elections, while in 2018 it had 48. The State of Law Bloc of former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki has also joined the framework, though it won 37 seats more than in 2018 when it had 25.

The chair of the Board of Commissioners announced the completion of the process of checking the results on 16 October, saying that 3,681 polling stations had had their votes counted manually. He said the results were preliminary and could be appealed.

Shortly afterwards, the coordination framework published a statement saying that “we had hoped that the IHEC would correct the major violations it committed during and after counting the votes and announcing the results. In the wake of its insistence on holding to the contested results, we announce our complete rejection of these results and hold the Commission fully responsible for the failure of the electoral process and its mismanagement, which will negatively affect the democratic path and societal harmony in Iraq.”

Sadrist bloc leader Muqtada Al-Sadr stated his acceptance of the results, giving a victory speech on 11 October in which he mentioned the outlines of a coming Sadrist cabinet as long as his bloc has the highest number of seats.

Al-Sadr tweeted on 16 October that he would seek to establish a national alliance, neither sectarian nor ethnic, under the heading of reform. This was intended to “match the aspirations of the Iraqi people to form a functioning government,” he said.

Far from the political tensions, Hassan Ali, 18, who had voted for the first time in Baghdad, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he had voted for an independent candidate whom his father knew. The candidate had won the seat, and Ali said he hoped independent parliamentarians would manage to change the power-sharing policy that in his view had led to uncontrollable corruption in Iraq.

There are 40 new independent MPs, the oldest being Mohamed Annouz, a retired legal adviser whose photographs swept Facebook showing him alone without bodyguards or assistance and putting up electoral posters in the city of Najaf.

Annouz, who was an active supporter of the October 2019 protests, was quoted as saying that “the first step that we, the independent winners, should begin working on is to unite our efforts and understanding to form a group capable of challenging the corrupt and the murderers and restoring the rights of citizens.”

The Imtidad list led by Alaa Al-Rikabi representing the October 2019 protesters saw Al-Rikabi himself and other candidates who were among the protesters in the city of Nassiriyah winning nine seats in Nassiriyah, Karbala and Kut.

A female winner from the list in Nassiriyah, Nisan Al-Salihi, was the first among the new female MPs, with 22,827 votes. She was quoted as saying that the “Imtidad movement arises from the protesters. We are opposed to any politicisation of the protests or the exploitation of our martyrs in an electoral campaign. Our aspiration is to express the ideas of young people.”

Awatef Turkey Rasheed, a female independent candidate from Basra who did not win, told the Weekly that the results were not fair. “The political environment in Iraq has encountered many difficulties, sectarian conflicts, imbalances of power and corruption. The resulting reaction of the people, especially the new generation of young people, has been protesting since October 2019 calling for human rights, justice and the improvement of political performance.”

“The protests’ outcomes have included a change of the government, a change in the elections law and early elections, and a change in the IHEC commissioners. It was expected that the winning candidates would mostly be independent and secular candidates. However, the results were shocking to many people,” she said.

“The Electoral Commission in Basra informed me that my votes had reached 4,000 before the closing of 68 counting centres. One day later, I was shocked to hear the number announced in the media was only 1,378. The number became 1,578 when the IHEC announced new numbers. I still have doubts about these numbers since I have large numbers of voters, family and relatives and close friends, that voted for me. Yet, numbers from the centres only showed two to four voters at each.”

The results of the elections, which witnessed a participation rate of only 41 per cent, have revealed radical changes in the map of the dominant political parties in Iraq, clearly showing a desire among Iraqi voters for a change of faces.

Around 220 MPs were elected for the first time. There are 97 female MPs, 57 elected and the rest within the 25 per cent women quota. The voters also punished many well-known politicians in the elections, among them Salim Al-Jubouri, a former speaker of parliament.

However, the scene is not clear yet in Baghdad. If there are changes in the newly elected parliament, it still seems likely that the leading posts will stay as if planned according to the power-sharing policy in place in the country, with the president being a Kurd, the speaker of the parliament a Sunni, and the prime minister a Shia.

There may not be problems in nominating the president and speaker, but problems have emerged with the results among the Shia on who will be the new prime minister. Iraq’s voters, who in these elections have insisted on bringing about change, are hoping that the new prime minister will take real steps towards reforms.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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