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.”