Monday, June 27

Iraqis will go to the polls on October 10. What happens next? | View

On Sunday, October 10, Iraqis will go to the polls for the early parliamentary elections – the first vote in the country since the mass protests. hit Iraq two years ago and overthrew the last government. They are also the first to be held under a new electoral law demanded by protesters. Both of them European Union and the United Nations have sent monitors to Iraq in what will be one of the the largest electoral assistance projects in history all over the world. Iraqis, however, are less interested in the vote itself than what comes next.

Many Iraqis no longer believe that elections can create change. Rather, they believe that political elites will continue to divide roles and resources through secret deals. The 2019 protesters demanded the reform of the entire political system; elections are just one small piece of the puzzle.

However, it is critical to encourage voters to come forward on October 10. Low turnout will only benefit established political parties that have monopolized power since 2003. And if they maintain their control because large sectors of the population do not vote, some hope this will limit their credibility and legitimacy. Therefore, pessimism about the elections could be self-fulfilling.

What has changed since the 2019 protests?

While the new electoral law does not meet all the protesters’ demands, break down the old one 18 electoral districts at 83 it means that voters will have a clear representative to whom they are accountable. And while many are threatening to boycott the elections, others are joining the polls. This new generation of political actors could, with enough votes, open a space for formal political participation. It would not transform Iraqi politics overnight, but it would be a step in the right direction.

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If many Iraqis are feeling lukewarm about the elections themselves, they will be closely watching what happens next. The 2019 protests were a strong sign that the population has lost patience with governments that do not comply. Even if the vote brings back many of the same old faces, they will have to start immediately and embrace reform and the will of the people. Failure to do so will further erode Iraqis’ faith in the democratic process.

A new government will need to be formed quickly, without the months-long delays seen before. After protests led to the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in November 2019, Iraq was left without a functioning government for six months until Mustafa Al-Kadhimi was finally confirmed as the new prime minister. For the next 18 months, the organization of the elections left the Al-Kadhimi government with little bandwidth for concrete actions.

The new government cannot devote so much time to political disputes. It should also reflect the election results, not clandestine deals, and most importantly base its activities on a shared agenda to address the core challenges facing Iraq. People will quickly want to see evidence that the new government is addressing their needs. Without this, the Iraqis will return to the streets and squares and could topple the government once again.

More at stake than ever

Iraq faces many critical challenges. The twin shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and falling oil prices wreaked further havoc in a country already facing severe economic stress. Oil exports represent almost 95 percent of government revenue, leaving the economy fragile and susceptible to market fluctuations. Successive governments have vowed to shift Iraq’s economy away from oil, but have made little progress. The decline in oil revenues since 2020 forced the government to introduce austerity measures and devalue your currency by one fifth, increasing the cost of living.

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Basic services remain inadequate. Poor medical care and a lack of water and electricity are among the main complaints of Iraqis. Two tragic hospital fires earlier this year and an almost total blackout amid a scorching heat wave he exposed the country’s weak and neglected infrastructure, and the insidious effects of corruption. In addition to these are the important effects of climate change in a country already prone to desertification and water scarcity.

The lack of action to remedy these problems has reinforced the widely held view that the ruling elite is indifferent to the suffering of ordinary Iraqis. The new government has to do better. Numerous plans have been developed to address the multiplicity of problems facing Iraq, but partisan disputes have prevented successive governments from implementing them. All political blocs must support reform and the successful implementation of long-term strategies for the new government to move forward.

On your recent visit, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, highlighted the importance that the EU attaches to the future of Iraq. After the elections are over, the European Union should intensify its commitment to supporting the reform process that follows. It is not the elections that will stabilize, but what will happen next.

Shivan Fazil is a researcher in the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Dylan O’Driscoll is director of the Middle East and North Africa Program.

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