On May 12, parliamentary elections were held in Iraq for the fourth time since the 2003 American-led invasion of the country. It was the first such election after a three-year military campaign to route Islamic State (IS) from Iraqi territory formally ended in December 2017, with many commentators hoping that it would signal a crucial step towards post-conflict stability.
Ordinary Iraqis, however, were not so hopeful. Many have grown increasingly resentful of governing elites and the political system more generally, namely due to corruption, foreign influences in the country, sectarianism, lack of security, economic instability, and a parliamentary seat allocation system that many feel favors large blocs to the disadvantage of smaller parties.
Iraqis are craving a radical break from the status quo, but most simply did not see the recent elections as a means to that end. Indeed, voter turnout was 44.5% of 24.5 million eligible voters, which is a significant drop from 2014 (62%) and the lowest by far since 2003. Alongside voter apathy, the low turnout was in part due to a boycott campaign that resonated with many potential voters.
Despite this, the elections resulted in electoral victory for many new faces and reformists. In a particularly surprising twist, the Sairoon alliance, which is made up of the Iraqi Communist Party, the Sadrist movement (a national Shi’ite movement led and inspired by cleric Muqtada al-Sadr), and a number of smaller, secular parties, unexpectedly beat out the pro-Iranian “Conquest” coalition, as well as the bloc led by incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
With more than 1.3 million votes, Sairoon won six of Iraq’s eighteen provinces (including Baghdad), and 54 out of 329 parliamentary seats in total (the largest of any coalition). Still, no single party won an outright majority (165 seats). As a result, coalition negotiations are currently ongoing, and are expected to drag for weeks. Al-Sadr, as head of the majority coalition, will play a key role in the process.
The Sairoon victory captured the attention of international media, notably due to al-Sadr’s notoriety in the “West” as the leader of a militia that waged a fierce insurgency against the American-led occupation of Iraq from 2004 to 2008. This is also because of the unlikely alliance forged between Sadrists, a religiously conservative movement, and the Communists.
Largely ignored, however, are the over 2 million internally displaced Iraqis, mainly from areas that were recently under the control of IS, who were “cheated, threatened, and manipulated” amidst the electoral process by election officials, security forces, and militias. An article by researcher Kristina Bogos for Middle East Eye investigates what the most vulnerable in the country had to endure during the electoral process:
Mohammed, 23, tried to cast his ballot twice. A fight broke out between displaced families from Mosul and Salahaddin as they stood in line to vote outside the Ashti school polling station, he said. Gunfire by an estimated ten Asayish officers followed shortly after.
“They wanted to scare us so to go away [back to the camp],” he said.
“There was this gun, they could only shoot 20 bullets with it, but they had these American guns that they shot many bullets from for a long time. Kids and women were all on the floor and crying.”
When Ahmed, a 54-year-old teacher from Yathrib, took six of his family members to vote, he said that employees of Iraq’s High Electoral Commission (IHEC) tossed four of their voting cards in the trash. All displaced families in Arbat, which currently stands at 2,893 families, or 13,795 people, were forced to vote at only one polling station, he said, despite three polling stations in the town being designated by IHEC as open to the displaced.
The Asayish security forces then told him and his family that they could enter the polling station, but only if they voted for Shalal Abdul, a candidate on the ticket for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a major Kurdish party.
“If you vote for Shalal, they would let you vote and if you are not voting for Shalal, then you can’t vote,” Ahmed said.
The entire article can be read here.