Many Iraqis are growing increasingly sceptical about upcoming parliamentary elections, which they do not view as an efficient tool to change the country’s poor conditions.
Such scepticism is the fruit of successive indications of political stagnation that have led to the same climate and conditions that prompted previous elections and which have allowed the same political forces that have ruled Iraq since the US invasion to retain power. These forces, Iraqis believe, have monopolised power despite utterly failing to lead and reform state institutions.
In recent weeks, the spectre of foreign interference has begun to haunt the elections scheduled for October, at a time when dozens of political parties and electoral alliances are rushing to form, without clear programmes or logical foundations for partnership.
The newly formed parties and alliances have been racing to register for the elections, giving the public the impression that they are unprofessional. The trend has also split the vote, again opening the door for big parties and their alliances to win a majority of votes like in the past four elections.
Consultations conducted by UN Special Representative to Iraq Jeanine Antoinette Hennis-Plasschaert in Tehran with Ali Akbar Velayati, adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, regarding the upcoming Iraqi elections included a very negative message to the Iraqi public.
Iraq announces parliamentary elections for June 2021https://t.co/WsrfwahR6Q— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) August 1, 2020
Though the UN said its contacts are aimed at helping Iraq conduct fair and transparent elections, Iraqis viewed the consultations as UN recognition of Iran’s role in Iraq as a fait accompli.
In a statement issued after his meeting with the UN envoy, the Iranian official described the upcoming elections in Iraq as “very decisive,” expecting them to be “good.”
Iraqis considered Velayati’s words to echo his confidence that Iran-aligned political forces from Shia parties and militias will emerge victorious, as this is the measure of elections’ “good quality” for Iran.
“The two sides discussed recent developments in Iraq, as well as the elections that Iraq will witness at the end of this year,” a statement released by Velayati’s official website said.
Velayati said there was “the need for no state to interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs … and that its people and government are the ones who make the decisions,” while Plasschaert stressed “the importance of free and fair elections in Iraq.”
Commenting on Plasschaert’s talks with Velayati, Iraqi MP Dhafer al-Ani wrote on Twitter: “There is no party that matches UNAMI in the way it validated fraud, corruption, and interference in the Iraqi elections.”
“The removal of the United Nations from the Iraqi elections makes it fairer,” he added.
Contrary to Ani’ statement, some Iraqis see the UN’s communication with Iran regarding Iraqi elections as realistic and justified.
— Militia factor —
These Iraqis argue that the UN knows the extent of Tehran-backed Shia militias’ influence over elections and their ability to control the results by using money or the threat of weapons to influence voters.
The militias, some Iraqis say, have become a direct participant in the elections through the Al-Fateh Alliance, which represented the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) in 2018 elections.
For these reasons, Plasschaert’s defenders say, the United Nations is trying to hold Iran responsible for any potential trouble and persuade it to end its militias’ meddling in upcoming Iraqi elections.
While the number of parties registering to participate in Iraqi elections is quite high, few platforms have been put forward. This, experts say, has created confusion for Iraqi voters who will find it difficult to differentiate between political formations and form a clear preference. Such a factor, experts warn, will play in the advantage of major political players, despite the fact that the elections were originally approved following pressure from the angry and indignant public against these players.
Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission announced Monday that it has so far approved 27 electoral coalitions representing 235 parties to participate in early elections slated for October 10.
The body said in a statement it is currently reviewing requests filed by five new coalitions — Um Al-Rabee’aen, the Coalition of Fathers, the Nation Safety Coalition, the National Balance Coalition and the Falcons.
Meanwhile, UNHCR spokeswoman Jumana al-Ghalay said “there are 25 other parties that have expressed their desire to participate in the elections.”
Observers warn that the large number of parties claiming to represent a mass grassroots movement that began in the country in October 2019 and lasted for several months will allow Islamist formations, which have become the source of much public anger, to review their strategy and find a solution to their declining popularity.
The dangers of unlawful interference in elections and attempts to skew their results in numerous ways, including fraud, remain at the top of Iraqis’ concerns and one of the main reasons they have lost confidence that the ballot boxes can bring change. All of this, experts warn, will translate into low voter turnout.
Iraqi authorities believe that the solution to the dilemma lies in intensifying international monitoring. The election commission announced earlier that it had sent invitations to 71 countries and organisations to monitor the elections.
Ghalay said that the commission has formed a committee of international observers headed by the head of the electoral administration, Judge Abbas Farhan Hassan. In coordination with the foreign ministry, invitations will be sent to countries and organisations to monitor the elections, Ghalay added.
She indicated that many countries expressed their desire to support and monitor Iraq’s electoral process, including Arab and foreign countries from Asia, Europe and others. As for Iraq’s foreign ministry, it issued a statement saying it addressed the UN Security Council to ensure the elections would be internationally monitored.
The lack of election integrity in Iraq has often been seen as an extension of widespread corruption, in addition to the power of armed factions whose influence overlaps with the influence of the ruling parties.
The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, however, has pledged to conduct a free and fair vote that is internationally monitored and not swayed by intimidation from armed militias.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© 2021-2021 The Arab Weekly. All rights reserved.