Iraqis were voting in small numbers on Sunday in a parliamentary election that many said they would boycott, having lost faith in the democratic system brought in by the US-led invasion of 2003, reports Reuters.
The established, Shia-dominated ruling elite whose most powerful parties have armed wings is expected to sweep the vote, with the movement led by populist Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who opposes all foreign interference and whose main rivals are Iran-allied Shia groups, seen emerging as parliament’s biggest faction.
Such a result would not dramatically alter the balance of power in Iraq or the wider Middle East, say Iraqi officials, foreign diplomats and analysts, but for Iraqis it could mean that a former insurgency leader and conservative Islamist could increase his sway over the government.
In Baghdad’s Sadr City, a polling station set up in a girls’ school saw a slow but steady trickle of voters.
Election volunteer Hamid Majid, 24, said he had voted for his old school teacher, a candidate for the Sadrists.
“She educated many of us in the area so all the young people are voting for her. It’s the time for the Sadrist Movement. The people are with them,” Majid said.
An election official told Reuters turnout was low by mid-afternoon, without elaborating. Turnout was low across the country, Reuters witnesses said.
In several parts of Baghdad, mosque loudspeakers were used to urge Iraqis to vote.
The election is being held several months early under a new law designed to help independent candidates – a response to mass anti-government protests two years ago.
“I’m not going to vote and my family won’t vote either, said Murtadha Nassir, a 27-year-old man in the southern city of Nassiriya, who participated in protests and watched friends gunned down by security forces.
“These groups being voted in, they’re all the ones who targeted us.”
Nonetheless, some Iraqis were keen to vote in what is Iraq’s fifth parliamentary vote since 2003 – and are hopeful of change. In the northern city of Kirkuk, Abu Abdullah said he arrived to vote an hour before polling stations opened.
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