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Iraqi elections begin with strict measurements to prevent fraud

In a first of its kind, Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission is excluding candidates from the early elections due to electoral campaign and law violations, raising expectations the elections will be different this time.
Members of Iraq's security forces take part in early voting for the parliamentary elections in the central city of Najaf, on Oct. 8, 2021.

BAGHDAD — Approximately 1.2 million Iraqi security forces kicked off voting today in Iraq's early elections. The rest of Iraq's eligible voters will go to the polls on Oct. 10. At today's end, over 40% of eligible voters have gone to the polls. 

Iraqi Prime Minister and commander-in-chief of Iraq's armed forces Mustafa al-Kadhimi visited the Joint Operations Command in the early morning for a meeting with the Supreme Security Committee to discuss election security.

Addressing the committee, Kadhimi said, “You are entrusted with protecting the electoral process, and I will follow up with you on the smallest details regarding the conduct of the elections.”

In the lead-up to these general elections, Iraq's Independent High Electoral Commission announced the exclusion of a group of candidates from the parliamentary elections due to complaints it received from citizens, competitors and judicial authorities.

This step showed an unprecedented seriousness in implementing electoral laws and decisions.

Most recently, the commission denied candidate Hussein al-Ramahi's participation in the elections based on judicial orders to arrest him. It ordered the withdrawal of his candidacy and the blocking of votes he receives on Oct. 10, which is general polling day.

Blocking votes is a means to prevent sanctioned candidates from winning or obtaining votes. The ballot paper for each electoral district is printed months ahead of time with the name and logo of the party or the independent candidate. Differently put, an exclusion decision cannot lead to printing out new papers. What it can lead to, however, is blocking votes the candidate may obtain despite the ban decision.

Before his exclusion, Ramahi was a candidate for the province of Babil and secretary-general of the Coming for Change Party. He was previously in Al-Wafa Party led by former Najaf Gov. Adnan Al-Zurfi.

The commission also decided to impose a fine of 5 million Iraqi dinars (about $3,500) on candidate Dilan Ghafour in the Kirkuk governorate for violating electoral campaign rules.

It notified the candidate of the need to clear his electoral violations within three days from the date of notification. Otherwise, the fine would be doubled.

The commission also imposed a fine of 2 million Iraqi dinars (about $1,500) on candidate Nazem Fahim Muhammad al-Shibli in the second electoral district of Qadisiyah province.

Chief among the names the Electoral Commission has sanctioned is former parliament member Haidar al-Mulla — a leader in the Sunni Al-Takadum Party led by parliament speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi — because of a complaint submitted by Al-Hal Party leader Muhammad al-Karbouli about Mulla's illegal actions during his electoral campaign.

The first names to be excluded from the electoral race in Iraq were issued in mid-September — namely, candidate Ashwaq Fahd Aboud al-Ghurairy (for trying to buy votes). The Electoral Commission subsequently decided to revoke the approval of candidates Mohammed Mahdi Abdul-Amiri and Salah Mujbil Taher al-Suwaidi and block the votes they would get on polling day for violating electoral conduct rules.

The number of candidates sanctioned by the Electoral Commission is the highest it's ever been when compared to previous elections, which indicates the ability of the current commission (consisting of judges) to implement the provisions of relevant laws, be they related to the elections themselves, the parties or the commission, in a more serious manner. This is especially true given there is a panoply of charges leveled against candidates, including the misuse of money, corruption and bribing voters, among others, and this naturally infers there is no political targeting of a specific party.

Of the main factors encouraging the Electoral Commission to make bold decisions to sanction and exclude candidates is the Electoral Behavior document, signed by the leaders of the political parties and blocs participating in the elections last month under the auspices of President of the Republic Barham Salih and Prime Minister Kadhimi.

That document included a pledge on the part of all signatories to implement and abide by a set of rules and principles related to the organization of fair and impartial elections, including respecting Iraq's Constitution and legal regulations, creating a safe and stable environment for elections, providing equal opportunities for candidates, adhering to the instructions of the Electoral Commission, and preventing negative phenomena that affect voters' decisions, such as the use of political money, the intimidation of citizens, manipulation and others.

Kadhimi’s government has taken a series of necessary measures to have an electoral process free of fraud and to restore citizens' confidence in the elections. It even allocated the necessary funds to the Electoral Commission and urged it to freely and fairly apply the laws in force, while securing the largest possible number of international and local observers and completing the laws related to the electoral process in order to fulfill the first pledge of his government, which is to organize early elections and bring the country to a state of political stability after the chaos that accompanied the popular protests in 2019 and led to the resignation of the previous government and the drafting of a new electoral law.

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