Vote count underway in Iraq after record low turnout

Preliminary turnout for the fifth election since the 2003 US invasion was at 41 percent.

People show their ink-stained fingers after voting at a polling station in Najaf, October 10 [Alaa Al-Marjani/Reuters]

Vote counting is under way in Iraq on Monday, a day after a record low turnout in a parliamentary election that reflects what many Iraqis said was a loss of faith in the country’s democratic process and political class.

Turnout in Iraq’s election fell amid widespread frustration with the country’s political elite with 41 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots, Iraq’s electoral commission said on Monday, in what was the fifth election since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled longtime ruler Saddam Hussein.

A previous low of 44.5 percent was recorded in 2018.

The parliamentary elections were brought forward by several months in response to protests calling for reform.

Iraqi security forces guard a polling station as Iraqis vote in Baghdad, October 10 [Saba Kareem/Reuters]

Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Abdelwahed said the low turnout was attributed to the boycott campaigns that had been launched by the protest movement of October 2019, which rallied against corruption, mismanagement and lack of opportunity.

Since the movement began, demonstrators have been calling for the dissolution of parliament and an overhaul of the political system that has been in place since the 2003 US-led invasion.

“They strongly believe these elections will not bring the change they wanted or hoped for because it is the same politicians running for parliament,” Abdelwahed said, speaking from the capital Baghdad.

Iraq's parliamentary system

Election observers also attributed the low turnout to a large deployment of security forces on election day.

More than 250,000 security personnel were sent to the streets, according to official figures.

Viola von Cramon, who heads a team of EU observers, lamented the turnout as partial data emerged.

“This is a clear political signal, and one can only hope that it will be heard by the politicians and by the political elite of Iraq,” she said.

‘Corrupt horse-trading’

A new single-member constituency system for electing Iraq’s 329 lawmakers was supposed to boost independents versus the traditional blocs largely centred on religious, ethnic and clan affiliations.

But analysts believe the change will be limited.

“The election will likely result in another fragmented parliament, followed by opaque, corrupt horse-trading,” wrote researchers Bilal Wahab and Calvin Wilder in an analysis published by the Washington Institute.

“Few expect this election to amount to more than a game of musical chairs, and the [protest] movement’s core demands – curbing systemic corruption, creating jobs and holding armed groups accountable – are unlikely to be met.”

Iraqi researcher Sajad Jiyad said: “There’s… general apathy. People just don’t believe that elections matter”, with little improvement in the three years since the last election.

Iraq, by convention, has had a Shia Muslim prime minister, a Sunni parliament speaker and a Kurdish president.

The bloc of populist leader Moqtada Sadr, already the largest in the outgoing parliament, was predicted to make gains but not enough to dominate the Shia camp.

Another major force is the Fateh Alliance, the bloc representing many Iran-backed Shia armed groups, which is expected to roughly retain its share of seats.

Map of Iraq with the number of seats, and provinces

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies