May 12, 2018 Iraq conducted its latest election for parliament. This was quite an accomplishment as four years before the war with the Islamic State began. The militants were able to seize roughly a quarter of the country and there were open questions about how voting could be conducted with several of Iraq’s largest cities such as Mosul, Tikrit and Ramadi having fallen under their control. After a bloody conflict, all of Iraq was liberated and the polls were open. At the same time, the majority of the public did not participate. This was largely due to disillusionment with the ruling parties.
Early results from the Iraq Election Commission showed the lowest turnout since elections began in 2005. The Commission reported that 44% of the 24 million registered voters took part in the balloting. Previously, January 2005 had the smallest voter participation rate at 57% due to the Sunni boycott. In the last two elections in 2010 and 2014 62% turned out both times.
The main reason for the disappointing results was widespread cynicism about the Iraqi parties. The 2018 elections were different from previous years because many lists ran candidates across ethnosectarian lines, touted reform, and brought up Iraqi nationalism. Despite that the same parties and figures were at the heads of the lists, those running for office were largely well known party members, and there were no real platforms laying out how exactly the politicians were going to change Iraq besides platitudes in speeches. The Iraqi public wanted something different than more of the same. There were even campaigns on social media to boycott the vote as a result. Those feelings apparently won out as seen in the turnout numbers. At the same time, that mood could mean parties that actually presented a change from the status quo could do better than expected. Some examples are Sairoon, which was Moqtada al-Sadr’s list with the Communists and New Generation, which ran in Kurdistan. Sairoon for instance ran all new candidates banning Sadr’s Ahrar bloc from putting up candidates. The biggest loser could be Prime Minister Haidar Abadi. While he is still expected to win a plurality of seats in parliament, his campaign based upon being a national Iraqi list obviously failed to bring out the numbers he was hoping for as this will be the first government formed without a majority of possible voters supporting it. That might also make it harder for him to carry out his policies since he can’t claim he had a real mandate from the public. This may be mediated if he picks up seats in Sunni areas, which will allow him to say he has a broader base than his competitors.
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Institute of Regional and International Studies, “Iraq Votes 2018, Election Mobilization Strategies,” The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, 5/11/18
Iraq News Network, “Sources: 44% voting rate by 1700 hours today,” 4/12/18
MacDonald, Alex, “Iraqis stay at home as officials report low turnout for election,” Middle East Eye, 5/12/18
Al Mada, “Bahaa al-Araji: not interested in candidates and advised Sadr to retreat from his plan for the Ahrar bloc,” 12/13/17
Al-Qarawee, Harith Hasan, “Sectarianism and the Iraqi Election: Two Potential Scenarios,” War On The Rocks, 5/11/18
Salaheddin, Sinan and Yacoub, Sameer, “Iraqi PM’s bloc wins most parliamentary seats,” Associated Press, 5/19/14