Iraq Elections 2021

Sadrist Movement Defeats Pro-Iran Parties Amid Low Turnout
Followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr celebrate holding his posters, after the announcement of the results of the parliamentary elections in Tahrir Square, Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced the parliamentary results of the November 10 vote which suggested that al-Sadr is the current front-runner with initial results coming from several Iraqi provinces. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

The Iraqi Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) announced 96% of the initial results for the early general elections held on Oct. 10, the fifth parliamentary vote since 2003.

Many observers expected these results, although some major political blocs lost their parliamentary seats, in return for the rise of other blocs, which achieved remarkable results.

The election results sparked rage among forces affiliated with Iran due to their significant loss of parliamentary seats.

More than 3,200 candidates representing 21 coalitions and 109 parties, along with independent figures, competed in these elections to win 329 seats in parliament.

Election Results

According to the electoral commission’s official website, Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement swept the elections, coming first and increasing the number of seats it holds in parliament to 73, followed by parliament speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi’s Taqaddum coalition with 38 seats and former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition with 37 seats, 32 for the Kurdistan Democratic Party and 15 for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party.

The initial results underscored how Sadr has increased his power over the Iraqi state since coming first in the 2018 election where his coalition won 54 seats.

The election results revealed the new electoral law’s ability to expose the popularity of each party, political analyst Iyad al-Anbar told the Majalla, adding that people took advantage of these elections to punish many political blocs.

Political analyst Iyad al-Anbar (Supplied)

The blocs that managed to win relied on their ability to organize their campaigns and attract voters by running as independent figures, Anbar noted.

In general, he added, the results proved the commission’s ability to hold fair and just elections compared to the level of manipulation in the previous elections.

The General Coordinator of Shams Network for Monitoring Election in Iraq, Hoker Jeto, said the results reflected part of the voters’ will, noting that the majority of the participants are partisans or affiliated with political parties.

Some parties were more professional than others, he affirmed, underscoring the importance of waiting for the appeals and complaints to be considered and the final results to be ratified by the Federal Court.

Low Turnout

Initial turnout in Iraq’s parliamentary elections was 41%, the IHEC announced, which indicates that the boycott rate exceeded that recorded in 2018’s elections.

The capital, Baghdad, recorded the lowest turnout with an estimated 32%, while the highest participation rate was recorded in Dohuk Governorate in the Kurdistan Region, amounting to 54%. Salah al-Din governorate, north of Iraq, came in second place with a 48% turnout rate.

Chief Observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Iraq Viola von Cramon said the relatively low turnout was “significant.”

“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 told reporters.

Anbar said “the low turnout was mostly expected for two main reasons.” The first is that the political forces did not present a new discourse to attract the hesitant public. Instead, they lost their audience, who punished them and could have provided them with an opportunity to remain in power. The second reason is that many citizens, who sought change, did not find the same old candidates worthy of their votes. 

The General Coordinator of Shams Network for Monitoring Election in Iraq, Hoker Jeto (Supplied)

Jeto agreed with Anbar and considered the low turnout “expected” since the political process in Iraq did not meet the citizens’ aspirations. Also, major parties have repeatedly hinted that no change will take place after the elections.  

Those who have the greatest potential are the parties in power, he explained, noting that the new electoral system and the multiple constituencies were a source of concern for these parties, which encouraged their members to participate in the elections while neglecting the voters.

Appeals against Election Results

Many political forces announced they will appeal against the results of the parliamentary elections. Head of IHEC, Judge Jalil Adnan Khalaf, said in a statement that the Iraqi election law allows blocs and parties participating in the polls to file appeals against the preliminary results within three days, starting the day after the publication of the election results.

He said the electoral commission would respond to the judicial body’s requests for elections and inquiries about appeals within a period of not more than seven working days from the date they are received.

The European Union Election Observation Mission in Iraq approved the parliamentary results, stressing there were no manipulations or violations during the electoral process.

The elections were “technically well-managed and competitive, despite challenges regarding level playing field for candidates and problematic aspects of the legal framework,” Cramon told a press conference in Baghdad.

She voiced concern over the low turnout. “Voters were able to freely express their will, but the turnout was low.”

Cramon pointed out that particularly female candidates were intimidated and threatened.  The potential of party-affiliated non-state armed actors to intimidate both the electorate and the candidates may have had effect on voters’ choice and turnout, she stressed.

Jeto highlighted the challenges faced by the IHEC, such as disabling the equipment, not allowing observers, as well as the collective voting issue. Yet, he affirmed that none has affected the electoral process.

However, he cited two major problems that occurred prior to the election day. The first is the Iraqi legislator, which divided the country into 83 electoral districts “like a cake that is divided among the active political forces.” The results in one way or another appeared in their favor, he said.

The second problem is buying votes and using political money to manipulate the results, despite the huge efforts put by the commission and the security and intelligence services.

Iraqis voters gather to cast their votes at a ballot station in the country's parliamentary elections in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. Iraq closed its airspace and land border crossings on Sunday as voters headed to the polls to elect a parliament that many hope will deliver much needed reforms after decades of conflict and mismanagement. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

Measures should have been stricter, he stressed, pointing out that the volume of spending is not regulated in the country, thus the disbursement of funds is also not monitored.

Anbar, for his part, said all the appeals filed were meant to complicate the situation on the ground and could not be legally proven.

The IHEC has proven its ability to prevent fraud professionally by controlling the voting process.

“The e-voting system was also managed in an orderly manner, which prevented fraud,” he affirmed.

Observers of the political parties were aware of the results and the audience who voted for them, he said, adding that many parties didn’t accept their loss and filed appeals to question the results.

Regarding the government that will be formed soon, Anbar doubted its ability to fight corruption.

“We must agree that all political blocs are involved in corruption in Iraq, and the only difference is in the rate of corruption,” he stressed, noting that fighting this corruption needs a political will and a firm stance.

Jeto, however, said people should wait to see what the elected political forces will do next. Forces are talking about a new system that would abandon consensual democracy and adopt a majority-minority rule, he said, adding that this system will eventually provide more space for services.

Nonetheless, he pointed to the complex situation that would make it difficult to attain this goal.

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