In an announcement in late July, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced that Iraq would hold its next parliamentary elections a year earlier than the one planned in June 2021. This announcement comes after months of anti-government protest late last year, which saw hundreds of protestors killed and injured by security forces and suspected insurgents.
In a speech on television on July 31st, al-Kadhimi said: “June 6, 2021, has been fixed as the date for the next legislative elections. Everything will be done to protect and ensure the success of these polls.” The United Nations praised his announcement, saying that it would promote “greater stability and democracy.” Al-Kadhimi has called for these elections amidst a number of crises his government is currently having to deal with, a health crisis due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, a fiscal crisis because of low oil revenues and exports, and political crisis due to the opposition of powerful armed groups in the country.
Early elections were one of the key demands of the anti-government protestors who took their political grievances to the streets late last year. In October of 2019, hundreds of thousands demanded the dismantling of the existing political system due to their concerns of endemic corruption, in which many protestors accused legislators of pocketing Iraq’s oil wealth for their own interests and the influence of sectarians’ interest on the goverment. Excessive foreign influence upon the goverment was also a key issue of these protests as many Iraqis concern that their politicians were being unduly influenced by Iranian and American goverment. Finally, activists demanded changes to the Iraqi voting process in the hope of fairer elections. The most recent election in 2018 was subject to widespread accusations of fraud. These protests eventually resulted in the stepping down of Adel Abdul Mahdi – Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s predecessor, who is the first Iraqi Prime Minister to do so before the end of his term since the US-led invasion in 2003.
Activists are likely to welcome al-Kadhimi’s announcement, but there will still be concerns over how the upcoming election will be held. Last year, Abdel Mahdi’s administration proposed and quickly passed a new electoral law, but diplomats and experts have noted that the law detailing voting procedures and constituency boundaries has not been finalised. In particular, many will be waiting to see the role of the Iraqi electoral commission in organising the polls. This commission is often accused of fraud and bias, which will require significant reform to ensure that the people of Iraq feel confident that their electoral system is democratic. Increased voter engagement is also necessary. Voter turnout in 2018 was only 44.5 percent, and it was especially low in some impoverished Shia Muslim areas in southern Iraq. High voter engagement is key to a healthy democracy and ensures that all citizens of a nation have their voices heard. In order to ensure fair elections with confident citizens, the Iraqi government will need to clarify the electoral process, make transparency a key feature of the system, and minimise any possibilities for bias and fraud.
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