Al-Sistani’s criticism of Iraqi politics behind low voter turnout: Candidates, observers

people dismantle campaign posters for parliamentary candidates in Ramadi, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 14 May 2018

Al-Sistani’s criticism of Iraqi politics behind low voter turnout: Candidates, observers

  • Many Iraqis view the government and political parties as mired in corruption and unable to offer them security and basic services
  • Candidates and observers told Arab News that criticism by Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani was a major reason for the low turnout

BAGHDAD: Despite the absence of threats against voters and polling stations, turnout for Saturday’s parliamentary election in Iraq was significantly down compared with previous ballots.

The Independent Higher Electoral Commission (IHEC) said turnout did not exceed 45 percent, the lowest level since 2005.

Candidates and observers told Arab News that criticism by Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, of the political process, politicians, and the electoral law announced a week before election day, was a major reason for the low turnout.

“Failures in past elections included the abuse of power by many who were elected and who occupy senior positions in the government. This can be seen in one way or another in this election,” Al-Sistani said in a statement.

Candidate Ammar Al-Waeili told Arab News that Shiite voters are “frustrated” and were “waiting for someone to tell them what to do,” so they “decided to stay home after that statement.”

Many Iraqis view the government and political parties as mired in corruption and unable to offer them security and basic services such as drinking water and electricity.

A senior Shiite official told Arab News on condition of anonymity that clergymen “are frustrated by people who don’t want to make any effort to change the situation, and by politicians who are corrupt.” This put off many Shiites from voting, he added.

Clergymen in the city of Najaf have played a key role at critical times over the past 15 years. They gave explicit orders to support the political process after the 2003 US-led invasion, and prohibited their followers from getting involved in the 2006-2008 sectarian war. 

The last religious edict by Al-Sistani, head of Najaf’s clergy, urged his followers to join the army and police to liberate Iraqi cities and towns from Daesh.

“Iraqis have been used to getting direct instructions from Al-Sistani for the past 15 years, telling them what they should do,” Sallama Al-Khafaji, a political researcher and former MP, told Arab News.

“When Al-Sistani told them they were free to vote or boycott in this election, they chose the easiest option: Boycott.”


UN says Libyan sides sign countrywide cease-fire deal

Updated 6 min 17 sec ago

UN says Libyan sides sign countrywide cease-fire deal

  • Libya is split between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east
  • Libya’s prized light crude has long featured in the country’s civil war, with rival militias and foreign powers jostling for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves

GENEVA: The United Nations said Friday that the two sides in Libyan military talks had reached a “historic achievement” with a permanent cease-fire agreement across the war-torn North African country.
After mediation this week led by UN envoy for Libya Stephanie Turco Williams, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission reached what the UN called an “important turning point toward peace and stability in Libya.”
Details were not immediately available, but the two sides were taking part in a signing ceremony in Geneva on Friday morning.
Libya is split between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the east. The two sides are backed by an array of local militias as well as regional and foreign powers. The country was plunged into chaos after the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
“The road to a permanent cease-fire deal was often long and difficult,” Williams, a former US State Department official, said in Arabic at the signing ceremony.
“Before us is a lot of work in the coming days and weeks in order to implement the commitments of the agreement,” she said. “It is essential to continue work as quickly as possible in order to alleviate the many problems due to this conflict facing the Libyan people.”
“We have to give people hope of a better future,” Williams added. She expressed hope the agreement will succeed “in ending the suffering of Libyans and allowing those displaced by the conflict to return to their homes.”
Ali Abushahma, the head of the delegation and a field commander for the UN-supported administration in Tripoli, said: “We have had enough suffering, enough bloodshed ... We hope we will change the suffering on all the territories of Libya, especially in the south.”
“I appeal to all Libya: Be one hand,” he said, warning about polarization by factions.
The meetings this week mark the fourth round of talks involving the Joint Military Commission under Williams’ watch. The Geneva-based military talks come ahead of a political forum in Tunisia in November. That forum aims to “generate consensus on a unified governance framework and arrangements that will lead to the holding of national elections,” the UN mission said.
On Wednesday, Williams had said the two warring factions agreed on issues that “directly impact the lives and welfare of the Libyan people,” citing agreements to open air and land routes in the country, to work to ease inflammatory rhetoric in Libyan media, and to help kickstart Libya’s vital oil industry.
Libya’s prized light crude has long featured in the country’s civil war, with rival militias and foreign powers jostling for control of Africa’s largest oil reserves.
Last month, the two sides reached preliminary agreements to exchange prisoners and open up air and land transit across the country’s divided territory. This breakthrough also accompanied the resumption of oil production after a months-long blockade by powerful tribes allied with military commander Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the eastern-based forces.
Haftar’s forces launched an offensive in April 2019 to try and capture Tripoli, the seat of the UN-supported government in the west. But his campaign collapsed in June.
Fighting has since died down amid international pressure on both sides to avert an attack on the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to Libya’s major oil export terminals.