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Should we participate in the Iraqi elections or boycott them?

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on October 22, 2020 in London, England [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on October 22, 2020 in London, England [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

In a tweet written in English, Prime Minister of the Baghdad government, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, addressed the Iraqi people on the occasion of the early elections to be held on 10 October, saying: "Our dear Iraqi people. For the sake of yours & your children's future, I urge you to get your voter registration cards. Your votes are a responsibility that shouldn't go to waste. Those wanting reform & change should aim for a high voter turnout. Your votes are the future of Iraq." The way this message is written makes it seem it is directed to a nation who live the luxury of living under a democratically elected government that is on the verge of handing over power to those who will actually be elected democratically. That is, it is directed either to those who do not know the reality of the current political and economic situation in Iraq, or to those who pretend that they do not know, and it is in their interest for the situation to remain the same.

There are two levels of consideration for the early elections because the decision to hold them was taken after the October 2019 uprising, which toppled the government of Adel Abdul-Mahdi, which came at the high cost of hundreds of demonstrators killed and thousands wounded and permanently disabled. The first level is what is presented as a distorted media image of the preparation for elections that, to the outside world, appear to be no different from that of many countries across the democratic world. For example, there is a daily record played by the "Independent" High Electoral Commission, statistics, an election law, and international monitoring to ensure integrity. However, dismantling this picture shows us the falsification of reality that is hidden behind it, affecting the process of elections and the splitting of the positions of parties, militias, and religious authorities associated with the occupation, as well as movements and organisations that were born from the womb of the October uprising.

A few months ago, the Electoral Commission announced that the number of people entitled to vote in the parliamentary elections was approximately 25 million. However, after the falsification and fraud surfaced, it restricted the number of those entitled to vote to those who possess biometric cards and increased the number of external observers. With the approach of the elections and the increased number of falsifications in advertisements and promotions, and with the candidates (most of whom are representatives of the corrupt parties currently in parliament) making absurd and imaginary promises to address the needs of citizens, including health, education, construction, reconstruction, electricity, drinking water and employing graduates, and with the rise of voices calling for boycotting the elections, the season for statements and releases calling for participation is in full swing.

On the government's part, Al-Kadhimi said that he would personally oversee the elections' security and that he would not allow any breach or transgression that could affect the electoral process or its results. However, he is ignoring the fact that he made countless promises to bring the killers of the demonstrators to justice and saying he would clip the wings of the militias when he was first appointed. However, he did not keep any of his promises. The religious authority, represented by the office of the religious marji' or reference, Ali Al-Sistani, who insists that he does not interfere in political affairs, issued a statement on 29 September to encourage "everyone" to participate in the elections to avoid the country risking falling into the abyss of chaos and political obstruction. He believes the country is currently living in a state of ultimate order and political openness. This statement deserves to be carefully considered for two reasons, first, because of its timing; a few days before the elections are held and after corruption has become evident in all areas of preparing for the elections. The statement was made either to avoid blame or as an attempt to rescue the corrupt government that is about to drown.

The second reading of the statement shows the skill of the "preacher" in formulating a speech that has no real content other than to play on one's feelings. How can the voter "be aware and responsible" in order to "bring about real change in the administration of the state" when once they took to the streets and demanded their homeland back, they were met with excessive lethal force by the security forces, to disperse the protesters, including military-grade tear gas bombs, live ammunition and deadly sniper attacks, according to Amnesty International. The organisation also documented the enforced disappearances of activists.

Al-Sistani's statement recommends the election of "only the honest and the good, who is keen on the sovereignty, security and prosperity of Iraq, who is entrusted with its original values ​​and supreme interests, and beware that they empower incompetent people or those involved in corruption or parties that do not believe in the constants of the honourable Iraqi people or it operates outside the framework of the constitution by occupying seats in the Parliament because it poses great risks to the future of the country." These are characteristics of a commodity that the reference office knows as well as the people is not available among the candidates, who are drenched in corruption, which raises doubts regarding the intention behind the statement.

We have noticed there is no unified position amongst the references regarding participation, as the media officer for the religious reference Jawad Al-Khalisi explained in an interview with Rudaw news agency that the statement was not issued in the name of Ali Al-Sistani, but by his office, and that it is not a fatwa, but rather a statement of encouragement, meaning following it is not obligatory. Imam Al-Khalisi's school of thought believes that the American occupation is still present and is still "controlling and dominating all details of the political process, including the elections", and that the results of the election are already determined, the votes are counted, and the seats are distributed.

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Apart from the reference, the "Opposition Forces Gathering", which was established by the groups that participated in the October uprising, supported the boycott because elections "lack integrity and equal opportunities." The Communist Party withdrew from participation on 24 July, after the temporary withdrawal of its partner Sadrist Movement on 15 July. However, Al-Sadr announced, weeks later, that he had changed his mind and required his party's candidates to sign a 28-point pledge that began with the condition of "obedience and loyalty" to Al-Sadr, leaving his ally the Communist Party as a non-participant, despite not being a part of the Opposition Forces Gathering that committed from the beginning to reject the entire political process.

Will participating or boycotting the elections lead to any change in the structure of the current government system? Yes, we will see some change, but for the most part, it will not be in the interest of the people who are looking to get rid of the corrupt sectarian regime and establish a true democratic system. Instead, it will be in favour of extending the life of the corrupt system with a redistribution of its balances, in line with the new regional balances between neighbouring countries, the international coalition and their internal deals.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 4 October 2021

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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