Female candidates shake up Iraq election

Around 7,000 candidates have registered to contest the May 12 election, with 329 parliamentary seats up for grabs. (AFP)
Updated 27 April 2018

Female candidates shake up Iraq election

  • ‘I will vote for one of the beautiful candidates and I do not mind if she has robbed me,’ soldier tells Arab News
  • Provocative posters and billboards of female Iraqi parliamentary candidates have sparked a heated debate about the role of women in the country’s male-dominated political system

BAGHDAD: Iraqis will go to the polls on May 12 to elect 329 MPs — the fourth parliamentary vote since the 2003 US-led invasion toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. 

With security better in much of the country than it has been for several years, the election has led to a surge of interest in a new generation of female candidates.

A total of 2,592 women are standing for office across the country and in Baghdad many of them have shunned the nation’s conservative traditions to run socially liberal and occasionally glamorous campaigns unlike anything Iraq has seen before.

Some posters depicting female candidates in make-up and without Islamic headscarves, have provoked a mixed response from an electorate more accustomed to voting for unsmiling religious clerics.

While some voters said the images were a welcome change to the dry, male-dominated campaigns of old, others accused the women of lacking “political depth” and relying on their looks to woo the public. The candidates themselves have defended their unorthodox approach as just another way to generate interest in the election.

In an interview with Iraqi news agency, Al-Manar Press, Mannal Al-Mu’atassim, said she hoped her fashionable image would motivate more young people to support her in the polls. She told Arab News that while she was “not betting” on her looks to win her more votes, she regarded her appearance as more important than her ability to debate conventional political issues.

“I believe that Iraqi voters are heading toward choosing new faces, so there is no need for an electoral program or slogans,” she said. 

Under the terms of the Iraqi constitution, 25 percent of the seats in the national Parliament are reserved for women. 

This is the first time, however, that the participation of female candidates has generated such widespread public interest among an electorate used to taking a cynical view of more established politicians linked to corruption and sectarian violence.

Ziena Al-Shimari, another female candidate in Baghdad, told Arab News she had been granted permission to run by the head of her tribe and was now determined to stand up for the rights of a new generation of Iraqis.

“I am calling on us to unify the Arab tribes because they support the young while the state does not,” she said.Since campaigning began on April 14, the images of the women have given rise to a range of reactions, from anger and mockery to adulation and pride.

“I will vote for one of the beautiful candidates and I do not mind if she has robbed me” Murtadha Zayer, a soldier, told Arab News. “If a beautiful thief robs me in front of my eyes it is better than having an ugly thief who continues to trick me all the time.”

Some of the pictures showing the female candidates have been torn by infuriated voters, while others have been defaced to give the women beards and mustaches.

Salah Ahmed, a political activist, criticized many of the women for lacking “cultural or political depth” and targeting “ignorant voters”.

“If we asked them to participate in electoral debates to identify their visions, plans and ways of thinking, we would find they had nothing to offer. So to compensate for this shortage they are focusing on their make-up and changes to their appearance,” he said.

Bushra Zuwini, a former minister of women’s affairs, told Arab News political factions are using female candidates who lack knowledge of important issues to trick the electorate.

“The big blocs now have experience in how to defraud voters, so they brought in new faces that do not understand politics and do not have any programs or visions,” she said. “This phenomenon will reflect negatively on women.


Iran dissidents urge vote boycott as leaders eye high turnout

Updated 9 min 37 sec ago

Iran dissidents urge vote boycott as leaders eye high turnout

  • The country’s supreme leader has urged Iranians to “disappoint the enemy” by participating en masse in the vote on Friday
  • Opponents outside Iran argue that the government’s pressure on citizens to vote means that anyone who casts their ballot is effectively legitimising the system

PARIS: Opponents of Iran’s theocratic leadership are urging an outright boycott of its parliamentary elections, arguing that it is anything but democratic and that casting a ballot serves only to bolster the country’s Islamic rulers.
The country’s supreme leader has urged Iranians to “disappoint the enemy” by participating en masse in the vote on Friday, which coincides with one of the most testing periods for the country since the ousting of the pro-US shah in 1979.
“Participating in elections and voting... is a religious duty” that will strengthen the Islamic republic against the “propaganda” of its enemies, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday.
Analysts say Iran’s leaders want to see a high turnout to bolster their legitimacy as they battle an economic crisis spurred by crippling American sanctions imposed after Washington abandoned the 2015 deal curtailing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The crisis prompted some of the most potent protests since the Revolution and the ferocious crackdown that followed.
The elections have been overshadowed by mass disqualifications of over 7,000 mainly moderate and reformist candidates by the Guardian Council oversight body.
The council threw out more candidates than it allowed in, including most incumbent MPs.
In a message from her jail cell, posted on her husband’s Facebook page, Iranian rights activist Narges Mohammadi said a boycott of the elections was the only peaceful means of protest left now that demonstrations are no longer being authorized.
“We need to rise up in the most civilized way and launch a strong boycott campaign to respond to the repressive policies of the government,” wrote Mohammadi, who is serving a 10-year sentence for “forming and managing an illegal group.”
Opponents outside Iran argue that the government’s pressure on citizens to vote means that anyone who casts their ballot is effectively legitimising the system.
Masih Alinejad, a former journalist who has left the country and leads a campaign against the enforced Islamic headscarf for women, has issued a viral video on social media warning that voting overlooks the memory of those killed in the protests.
While officials tell everyone to vote for the sake of the country, “the day after the election, it’s back to normal — the establishment claims the votes gave the Islamic regime legitimacy, and all promises of greater freedoms are forgotten,” she told AFP from New York.
“The candidates are pre-selected, no opposition views are tolerated and even the turnout is stage-managed,” she said, adding that instead of voting, people should demand a UN investigation into the November protests.
Amnesty International has confirmed the deaths of 300 people in the crackdown that followed those protests, and some estimates are far higher.
Iran rejects the reports but has yet to give its own figures.
Tehran’s admission that it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner in January, killing all 176 on board, sparked more protests, at the very moment when the authorities were seeking to consolidate national sentiment following the US killing of top commander Qasem Soleimani.
Underlining the importance of mass participation, Khamenei said in a speech on February 5 that “the enemies who threaten the country and the nation are more afraid of popular support than our armaments.”
Turnout has varied widely in Iranian parliamentary elections over the past decades, but has generally been recorded at more than 50 percent and sometimes topping 60 percent — a figure the authorities will want to see repeated on Friday.
While the leadership should be able to count on a reasonable turnout from supporters of conservatives and in more rural areas, it is not certain how many will vote in bigger cities such as Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and even the holy city of Mashhad, said Ellie Geranmayeh, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“The question mark is over the bigger urban cities,” she told AFP.
In any case, conservatives — or “principalists,” who are themselves split between different factions — will likely dominate the next parliament after the disqualification of reformists, which risks putting off many voters.
“The scale of disqualifications and what many see as a lack of competitive choice for the Iranian electorate may result in much lower voter participation in the urban areas relative to the last election,” Geranmayeh said.
On the other hand, “supporters of the principalists are expected to turn out and vote. We should not underestimate their numbers. They have also been galvanized by recent events including the killing of Soleimani,” she said.