In May 2018 Iraqis went to the polls to pick a new government. The results were the since elections started in 2005 and by the ruling parties. The participation rate showed deep cynicism towards the political system, which was confirmed by the fraud that took place. A recent public opinion poll conducted from August to October 2018 pointed to the Iraqi public having little faith in the country’s politics.
Almost three quarters of respondents said they were unhappy with the May results, nearly two thirds felt they had no say in the nation, and that was largely because they didn’t trust the results. When asked were people happy or unhappy with the balloting 71% said they were unhappy versus only 22% that were satisfied. Kurdistan had the highest positive view and that was only 30%. In Baghdad, the south and the west 70% or more said they didn’t like the results. When asked whether the election made them feel like they had a voice in the direction of Iraq 31% said yes and 62% said no. In Baghdad, the south and the west around 30% felt like they had a say, while in Kurdistan that dropped to 16%. Finally, there was little faith that the voting was fair with only 19% saying they were fee. The numbers showed the results of 13 years of national unity governments, which consistently failed to meet the needs of the public. They couldn’t prevent two wars, nor provide basic services and adequate employment for the country despite making huge amounts of money from oil. The corruption that resulted also undermined support. The result is fewer people believe in elections and the political process. The low percentages in Kurdistan also point to general anger Kurds feel towards the federal government after they seized the disputed territories as a result of the failed independence referendum last year.
When asked to pick from a list of possible solutions few believed these problems could be solved. The highest rated issue was to video record the counting of the ballots. Only 38% felt that would help a great deal and 65% said it would somewhat help. Hiring an auditing company to monitor the new electronic voting system that was used in May was second with 36% saying it would help a great deal. Everything else was at 30% or less such as forming a special election committee, having the United Nations work with the Iraqi Election Commission, etc. The belief appears to be that the Iraqi ruling parties are so entrenched that they cannot be stopped from their holding onto power by any means necessary so few believed there was a solution to this dilemma.
Further questions highlighted just how alienated people felt from their government. Few believed they had an idea what their local and the federal governments were doing. Only 20% said they believed they knew what their provincial government was doing and that went down to 18% for the central government. Again, the general mood was that the public was not being consulted or informed by the authorities about their actions. People are asked for their votes, and then the parties go about their business. Democracy is supposed to be government for and by the people. Iraqis do not feel like that is happening.
Finally, Iraqis did not trust their institutions. The Human Rights Commission had the highest rating at only 12% saying they trusted it a lot and 35% somewhat. Next was the justice system at 11%, the district councils at 8%, the federal government at 7%, the provincial councils at 6% and parliament at the bottom at 3%. If people didn’t believe in elections and the political parties there was no reason why they would feel confident in the government that they run.
The new administration of Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi is not infusing confidence. It is another national unity government just like all the others since 2005, but with a major difference. Mahdi didn’t run as a candidate so he comes from no party, and the winning lists didn’t form an alliance to create the government. Instead, the two largest lists Moqtada al-Sadr’s Sairoon and Hadi Amiri’s Fatah formed two separate alliances and agreed to elect Mahdi, but have disagreed on how to finish his cabinet. With such low voter turnout, and general alienation the government is not doing anything to win over the public with strong action. Instead they are arguing amongst each other just like they always have meaning they are continuing to ignore the people now that they have their votes.
National Democratic Institute, “Iraqis Call on the New Government for Jobs, Services, and Reconstruction, August-October 2018 Survey Findings,” November 2018