According to preliminary results, the candidates from Al-Sadr beat Iran’s preferred candidates from the Fatah alliance for first place. The Fatah Alliance, led by the paramilitary leader Hadi al-Ameri, consists of parties and is linked to the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of mostly pro-Iranian Shiite militias. The alliance became known in the war against the Sunni extremist group Islamic State. It includes some of the most heavily supported factions by Iran, such as the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia.
It wasn’t immediately clear on Monday how many seats the Fatah Alliance lost, out of the 48 it got in 2018.
The turnout was 41%, a record low in the post-Saddam Hussein era that signals widespread distrust of the country’s leadership and the vote for a new parliament. That’s a drop from 44% in the 2018 election, which was an all-time low.
The weekend elections were held months ahead of schedule as a concession to a youth-led popular uprising against corruption and mismanagement. But the vote was marred by widespread apathy and a boycott of many of the same young activists who crowded the streets of Baghdad and the southern provinces of Iraq in late 2019, calling for sweeping reforms and new elections.
Tens of thousands of people protested in late 2019 and early 2020 and were met by security forces who fired live ammunition and tear gas. More than 600 people were killed and thousands injured in just a few months.
Despite authorities relenting and calling for the early elections, the death toll and persistence – as well as a series of targeted killings and attempted killings – later led many protesters to boycott the vote.
Many of the young activists who took part in the 2019 protests also raged against Iran’s gross influence over Iraqi politics, including armed militias competing with state authority. Many blamed the militias for having been involved with security forces in the brutal crackdown on the protests and possibly playing a role in Fatah’s poor performance.
Al-Sadr, a black turbaned nationalist leader, is also close to Iran but publicly opposes its political influence.
The election was the sixth since Saddam Hussein was overthrown after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Many were skeptical that independent protest movement candidates would stand a chance against entrenched parties and politicians, many of them from powerful armed militias.
Preliminary results showed that several independent candidates were able to enter parliament, although the number of seats was not immediately known.
There was a marked reluctance among young Iraqis – the largest population in the country – to step down and vote. Many expressed the view that the system was immune to reform and that the elections would only bring back the same faces and parties responsible for the corruption and mismanagement that has plagued Iraq for decades. The problems have left the country with crumbling infrastructure, growing poverty and rising unemployment.
Iraq’s laws allow the party that wins the most seats to vote for the country’s next prime minister, but it is unlikely that either of the competing coalitions can win a clear majority. This will require a lengthy process with negotiations in the back room to select a prime minister with a consensus and agree on a new coalition government.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has played a key role as a mediator in the crises in the region, particularly between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia. Many in the region and beyond will see if he gets a second term.
The new parliament will also elect the next president of Iraq.