Iraqi voters head to the polls in test for democratic system

Iraqi voters head to the polls in test for democratic system

Election brought forward in concession to protest movement but analysts expect low turnout amid widespread distrust.


Iraqis headed to the polls for an early election billed as a concession to anti-government protests but one expected to be boycotted by many voters who distrust official promises of reform.

Polls opened at 7:00am (04:00 GMT) on Sunday but few voters turned up early at one polling station at a school in the centre of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

“I have come to vote to change the country for the better, and to change the current leaders who are incompetent,” said Jimand Khalil, 37, who was one of the first to cast her vote. “They made a lot of promises to us but didn’t bring us anything.”

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Security was tight in the capital, with voters searched twice at the entrance to polling stations.

Airports have been closed until dawn on Monday across Iraq, where despite the government’s declaration of victory over the ISIL (ISIS) group in late 2017, sleeper cells continue to mount attacks.

“Iraqis should have the confidence to vote as they please, in an environment free of pressure, intimidation and threats,” the UN mission in Iraq said ahead of the polls.

Polls remain open until 6:00pm, with preliminary results expected within 24 hours of closing. Dozens of election observers deployed by the European Union and the United Nations were set to monitor the vote.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi cast his ballot early in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.

“This is an opportunity for change,” he said.

“Get out there and vote, change your reality, for Iraq and for your future,” urged al-Kadhimi, whose political future hangs in the balance, with few observers willing to predict who will come out on top after the lengthy backroom haggling that usually follows Iraqi elections.

Analysts have predicted a record-low turnout for the polls, held a year early in a rare concession to the youth-led protest movement.

Dozens of anti-government activists have been killed, kidnapped or intimidated over the last two years, with accusations that pro-Iran armed groups, many of which are represented in parliament, have been behind the violence.

Reporting from Baghdad, Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said the expectations of low turnout are widely based on disillusionment among people, especially the youth.

“Most of the disillusioned are those who rose up against corruption and mismanagement in 2019 in what is known as the Tishreen [October] revolution,” he said.