Iraqis started on Sunday morning heading to cast their votes in early parliamentary elections, in a bid to shape the country’s future amid calls for economic reforms.
Polls opened at 7:00 a.m. local time on Sunday, and are scheduled to close at 6:00 p.m.
More than 25 million Iraqi citizens are eligible to vote. Voters are supposed to present a biometric card for what is conceived as a fully electronic voting process. However, some have not received the cards and authorities say provisions have been made to ensure they are not excluded.
A total of 329 seats are up for grabs in the election. More than 3,240 candidates are in the running, including 950 women.
One-quarter of the seats are reserved for female candidates, and nine for minorities including Christians and Izadis.
The elections were originally planned to be held in 2020, but the date was brought forward in response to a mass protest movement that broke out in 2019 to call for economic reforms, better public services, and an effective fight against unemployment and corruption in state institution.
The vote is also taking place under a new election law that divides Iraq into smaller constituencies, another demand of the protesters, and allows for more independent candidates.
Around 600 international observers, including 150 from the United Nations, are monitoring the voting process.
Security forces, prisoners and those displaced by Daesh’s [Arabic for ‘ISIS/ISIL’] terror campaign voted in special early polls on Friday, ahead of the nationwide general election.
The voting is underway under tight security, with all airports closed from Saturday evening to dawn on Monday across Iraq.
The biggest bloc Sairoon, with 54 seats in the last assembly, is led by influential Shiite Muslim scholar Muqtada al-Sadr. It is expected to strengthen its hold in parliament after scoring big in the 2018 elections.
Other major players are the Fatah [Conquest] Alliance led by Hadi al-Ameri, who also heads the Badr Organization, one of the factions of the anti-terror Hashd al-Sha’abi – now integrated into regular Iraqi armed forces, and a political movement called “Harakat Huqooq”. It is close to the Hezbollah Brigades, another group under operating under the command of Hashd al-Sha’abi.
Former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who led Iraq from 2006 to 2014, heads the State of Law Alliance.
The Alliance of State Forces brings together factions aligned to former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and Shiite cleric Ammar al-Hakim, who led the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq from 2009 to 2017.
Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Halbousi, leads the Taqaddum [Progress] movement. It is an umbrella body for several Sunni parties, politicians, and tribal leaders from Baghdad and other provinces in the west and north of the country.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party [KDP] and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan [PUK] are also the two major Kurdish political factions in the elections.
Iraqi officials and religious leaders have been encouraging people for a large turnout in the election.
Top cleric and a widely respected authority, Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Sistani, has called for a large turnout, saying that voting remains the best way for Iraqis to take part in shaping their country’s future.
Iraqi elections are often followed by months of protracted negotiations over a president, a prime minister and a cabinet.
Security forces drove through the streets of Baghdad on Saturday, with loud speakers encouraging voters to cast their votes in Sunday’s general election.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi paramilitary Popula Mobilization Units, better known by the Arabic name of al-Hashd al-Shaabi, called on Iraqis from all ethnic groups to respond to Sayyed Sistani’s call.
“We are on the verge of a democratic move, which Iraqis can be proud of once compared to other regional peoples that are still deprived of their basic rights, including the right to elect their representatives in the government. Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters, along with their brethren in Iraqi security and military forces, seek to safeguard security nationwide,” it said in a statement on Saturday.