Record low turnout in Iraq elections

Turnout was 44%. No election since 2003 saw turnout below 60%.
Sunday 13/05/2018
An Iraqi poll worker watches over an empty voting centre during a parliamentary election in the city of Falluja, on May 12. (Reuters)
An Iraqi poll worker watches over an empty voting centre during a parliamentary election in the city of Falluja, on May 12. (Reuters)

LONDON - Iraq saw a record low turnout in its first elections since the collapse of the Islamic State (ISIS), pointing to widespread dissatisfaction with the direction of the country and presaging a long period of deal-making as politicians squabble over posts in a new government.

Results are expected within 48 hours according to the electoral commission. There were no bombings at any polling stations — a first since the US invaded Iraq in 2003.

Riyadh al-Badran, a member on Iraq's national elections commission, said turnout was 44 percent. No election since 2003 saw turnout below 60 percent. More than ten million Iraqis voted.

Problems with new electronic system

Polling station officials blamed the low turnout on a combination of tight security measures, voter apathy and irregularities linked to a new electronic voting system.

Iraq is beset by chronic corruption, a sputtering economy, and failing public services. Millions of voters decided to abstain altogether.

For those who did attempt to vote, some in Baghdad complained of voting irregularities at polling stations linked to the new electronic voting system implemented for the first time this year in an effort to reduce fraud.

Many voters were turned away from different polling stations across Baghdad in the morning.

Amira Muhammed, the supervisor of a polling station in Azamiyah, Baghdad, said some people couldn't vote because they did not pick up their new biometric ID cards in time. "The problem is not with us," she said. 

A member of Iraq's electoral commission deflected blame for the reported irregularities. "There were some problems with the electronic equipment due to misuse by some employees," Hazem al-Ridini told the AP.

'Inclusive' government?

With no clear front-runner, it could take months for a new Parliament to form a government name a prime minister seen as suitable to the country's rival Shia political currents, who have adopted diverging positions on Iran.

The low turnout could open the door to Sunni-led and Kurdish electoral lists to play a bigger role in the negotiations, as well.

The United States congratulated Iraq on its parliamentary election and emphasized the importance of forming an "inclusive" government.

The newly elected members of Iraq's parliament "will have the important task of forming an inclusive government, responsive to the needs of all Iraqis," read a statement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Iraq map
Iraq map

Kurdish infighting 

Two Kurdish political parties clashed with assault rifles in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaimaniya amid accusations of ballot rigging in elections, residents and officials said.

Gunfire broke out between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the party which historically controls the city, and the Movement for Change, known as Gorran, they said, reporting no casualties.

Earlier on election day, Gorran and three other Kurdish parties accused the PUK of electoral fraud.

PUK officials had said their party won most of the province's seats in the Iraqi parliamentary elections even though no result was officially released.

There were tensions in the oil-rich province of Kirkuk where the governor demanded a manual recount and declared a curfew to prevent any ethnic or sectarian clashes between its Kurdish, Arab and Turkmen communities.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is running to keep his post. In addition to former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Abadi's most powerful competition is from an alliance of candidates with close ties to the country's powerful, mostly Shia paramilitary forces, and an alliance led by influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Beyond sectarian politics

Some Sunnis said they are hopeful this election will help Iraq move beyond sectarian politics and become more inclusive.

Marginalization of Iraq's Sunnis under Maliki is seen as a factor that allowed ISIS to rise in power in Iraq. Abadi has led a more cross-sectarian government marked by his ability to balance the interests of his two allies often at odds: the US and Iran.

The war left more than 2 million Iraqis, mostly Sunnis, displaced from their homes, with cities, towns and villages suffering heavy destruction. Repairing infrastructure across Anbar and Nineveh provinces, both majority Sunni areas, will cost tens of billions of dollars.

There were 329 parliament seats at stake, with nearly 7,000 candidates from dozens of political alliances.

Iraq's constitution allows lawmakers more than three months after the ratification of the election results to form a government. But many expect the process to drag on for much longer if there is no clear winner, as dozens of political parties attempt to cobble together a political bloc large enough to hold a majority of seats in parliament.

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)