Iraqi PM sets date for early parliamentary polls

The United Nations welcomed Kadhimi’s announcement, ready to provide support.

Saturday 01/08/2020
Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks to members of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, last June. (AP)
Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks to members of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, last June. (AP)

BAGHDAD -  Iraq will hold its next parliamentary elections nearly a year early, the prime minister announced Friday, as he sought to make good on promises he made when he came to power.

“June 6, 2021, has been fixed as the date for the next legislative elections,” said Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who took the reins of power in May after months of protests forced his predecessor to resign.

“Everything will be done to protect and ensure the success of these polls,” Kadhimi said in a televised speech.

The next parliamentary elections had originally been due to take place in May 2022.

But months of protests began in October, with thousands taking to the streets of Baghdad and across the south.

Demonstrators demanded that the political system be dismantled, pointing to endemic corruption and what many see as the malign influence of sectarian interests.

Kadhimi was nominated in April, months after Adel Abdel Mahdi stepped down — the first time a premier has resigned before the end of his term since the US-led invasion of 2003.

A file picture shows and Iraqi woman voter walking outside a voting booth at a poll station in the capital Baghdad’s Karrada district on May 12, 2018. (AFP)
A file picture shows and Iraqi woman voter walking outside a voting booth at a poll station in the capital Baghdad’s Karrada district on May 12, 2018. (AFP)

Kadhimi’s government on Thursday said a total of 560 people had died in protests since October.

Nearly all were demonstrators killed at the hands of the security forces, according to an adviser to the premier.

Abdel Mahdi’s government proposed to parliament a new electoral law that was approved by parliament in December, aiming to give political independents a better chance of winning seats in parliament and weaken the hold of ruling elites.

The parliament must now officially vote on the new date. But political differences prevail over the implementation of the new electoral law.

If implemented, the legislation would change each of the country’s 18 provinces into several electoral districts, with one legislator elected per 100,000 people. Crucially, the law also prevents parties from running on unified lists, which in the past has helped them sweep all the seats in a specific province. With the new law, seats will go to whoever gets the most votes in the electoral districts.

It was not clear also what role Iraq’s election commission — regularly accused of bias — would have in organising the polls.

Elections in Iraq are sometimes marred by violence and often by fraud.

The United Nations mission in Iraq (UNAMI) welcomed Kadhimi’s announcement.

“Early elections fulfil a key popular demand on the road to greater stability and democracy in Iraq,” it said in a statement.

“The United Nations is ready to provide support and technical advice as requested by Iraq to ensure free, fair and credible elections that win the public’s trust.”

The 2018 election was marred by a record low turnout of 44.5 percent, according to official figures. Independent observers believe the true turnout was much lower.

Voters abandoned major political parties in favour of Shia leader and former militia chief Moqtada Sadr, who allied with communists on an anti-corruption platform.

Iraq was earlier this year at the centre of heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran, after the US killed Iranian Quds Force chief General Qasem Soleimani — alongside Iraqi Shia militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis — in a January drone strike in Baghdad.

Together with months of political crisis, Iraq is also grappling with a major economic downturn due to the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the demand for oil, the lifeblood of the country’s economy.