‘We have been robbed’: Iraqis vent anger with poll boycott

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In the three previous elections since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the majority Shiite population have participated in large numbers but that enthusiasm has waned. (AFP)
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Iraqis voted on Saturday in the first parliamentary election since declaring victory over Daesh. (AFP)
Updated 14 May 2018

‘We have been robbed’: Iraqis vent anger with poll boycott

  • ‘Reluctance is great and clear’: Just 44.5 percent turnout reported by election commission
  • People have a sense of futility, no work, no services and even no medical services., says one poll booth manager.

BAGHDAD: Elections in Iraq on Saturday suffered the lowest turnout of any vote since the US-led 2003 invasion, with a population jaded by government corruption.

The Independent High Electoral Commission said on Saturday night just 44.5 percent of registered voters had cast their ballots.

Across Baghdad, the streets were quiet throughout the day with officials and monitors saying just 30 percent went out to vote in some Shiite areas, election monitors said. 

There was relief, however, that just a few months since Daesh was declared defeated, there were no attacks on polling stations. The vote passed off almost free of violence, with just one explosion in Kirkuk killing three people.

About 7,000 Iraqi candidates ran for 329 seats representing 18 provinces.

Prime Minister Haider Abadi is hoping to fend off challenges from his predecessor, Nuri Al-Maliki, and a pro-Iranian militia leader, Hadi Al-Amiri.

Tight security measures were imposed for the voting, including shutting down border crossings and airports, and restrictions on vehicle movements in all provinces.

But as the poor turnout became clear in the morning, Abadi ordered the restrictions to be lifted in an attempt to encourage citizens to take part in voting.

By noon, Baghdad’s streets were almost empty with hundreds of troops and security vehicles deployed in every square and temporary blast walls blocking the roads.

In eastern Baghdad, candidates’ banners disappeared as youths dismantled the posters to salvage the steel frames.

“We have visited 60 voting stations across Baghdad, and our initial conclusion suggests that the turnout is very weak,” Ali Naji, head of a local monitoring team, told Arab News in the capital’s upmarket Al-Mansour district.

“There is a clear reluctance to participate in the elections this time.”

In the impoverished Sadr City, home to about 5 million people, the streets were unusually empty, except for a few cars ignoring the curfew.

Sadr City is crucial in deciding which list or coalition will win the election.

A young man dragged a tiny girl waving a small Iraqi flag behind him, while a woman in her 20s wearing a traditional black abaya and carrying a child in her arms walked slowly to a polling station. 

An elderly woman wearing an abaya and standing near the blast walls blocking vehicles from reaching the polling station called out to voters to support Al-Maliki, the former prime minister and head of State of Law coalition.

“It is almost 1 p.m. and no more than 30 voters out of 250 have come to vote so far,” Taher Fadhil, a manager of a polling station in Sadr City, told Arab News. 

“The reluctance is great and clear. People have a sense of futility, no work, no services and even no medical services.

“What do you expect from people?”

While the official turnout had not been announced last night, initial indications suggest it might struggle to get above 40 percent across Iraq.

In the three previous elections since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the majority Shiite population has participated enthusiastically. Shiite electoral blocs have easily secured enough votes to form a government.

The situation has changed since 2014, when Daesh militants swamped the northern and western parts of the country and seized almost a third of Iraqi territory.

The militants have been defeated, but corruption has become even more rampant across all sectors of the state. Both Shiites and Sunnis have become jaded by corruption levels that rank among the worst in the world and frustrated at the failures of the government.

The previous three elections have also shown the dominance of the same political blocs.

The turnout in Baghdad is expected to fall below 30 percent and it was weak in both Sunni and Shiite districts. Many Sunni mosques used loudspeakers to urge people to vote. Shiites candidates circulated photos of representatives of Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in Iraq, and Muqtada Al-Sadr, the influential Shiite leader, in a bid to lift the turnout. 

“I did not vote because all the candidates belong to the same political blocs, and even the new ones belong to them,” Abu Ahmed, a garage owner in the Sunni Dora district of Baghdad, told Arab News.

“Those (the blocs) do not represent anyone but themselves. I mean all of them, including the Shiites and Sunnis.

“All these blocs have abused people. They have robbed us to finance themselves and their parties, so why should I vote for any of them?”

Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

Updated 23 January 2019

Erdogan and Putin vow closer cooperation on Syria at Moscow talks

  • The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict
  • Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.
“Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours.
“With our Russian friends we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”
“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries’ defense ministers “effective.”
At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria.”
Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region.”
The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s forces.
Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.
Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.
Putin said that if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilize the situation in this restive area.”
Turkey has also welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.
Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.
The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.
Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports “establishing dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said that Damascus must take control of the north.
The northwestern province of Idlib earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The Russian foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday that the situation in the province remained of “serious concern.”
Putin said that the leaders discussed the situation in Idlib “in great detail today.”
“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said.
Erdogan said that the countries will wage a “lengthy fight” in Syria.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the planned US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.
Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.
The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.
Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
Putin said Wednesday the next summit would be held “in the near future” in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.
But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered at a remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defense systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.