Iraq Pulse

Activists in Iraq try new tack: Effect change by not voting

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Article Summary
Iraqi political parties are trying to mobilize voters as calls for an election boycott gain steam.

BAGHDAD — Multiple social media campaigns are urging a boycott of the May 12 local and parliamentary elections in Iraq, under the Arabic hashtags #IWillNotVote and #Boycotters. So far, the efforts by bloggers and civil society activists are limited to social media and haven't caused much of a stir. No physical protests or meetings have been organized yet, but the campaigns have gone viral among Iraqis on Facebook.

Some other activists and bloggers are encouraging people to vote with the Arabic hashtag that translates to #DoNotStayHome.

Shiite clerics Fadel al-Maliki and Jawad al-Khalsi are also calling for a boycott and are warning Iraqis not to be deceived into believing other clerics or politicians. They disapprove of military groups — specifically, the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) — becoming involved in politics and believe the elections are being influenced by the United States and Iran as well as Iraqi special interests.

Sunnis had sought to delay the elections so thousands — possibly millions — of people displaced by war could return to their hometowns to be eligible to vote. Their efforts failed, and they are also reportedly seeking a boycott.

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Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s alliance with the controversial and heavy-handed PMU is another reason behind the calls for a boycott, as are allegations of corrupt officials on Abadi's Victory Alliance (Nasr al-Iraq) electoral list. The Abadi-PMU alliance lasted only a few hours but shocked civil society movements that have been protesting corruption and human rights violations in the country since 2011. Such movements were previously in favor of Abadi but now are trending toward a boycott.

Ali al-Sumery, a leading figure in protests against now-Vice President Nouri al-Maliki in 2011 and others in 2015, is thinking of boycotting the polls to avoid voting for one of the very parties he previously had protested.

“I haven't made up my mind yet, although I am attracted to the idea of boycotting the elections in protest against recycling political waste," he told Al-Monitor.

Some people attribute the calls for a boycott to the lack of electoral platforms. According to Sumery, “Those alliances seeking the distribution of gains among themselves later on” are the ones getting the attention so far.

In 2015, Arab Sunnis abstained from taking part in the referendum on the current Iraqi Constitution in the only full-fledged election boycott in the past 12 years.

There are 24 million eligible Iraqi voters, according to the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC). For a July 7 article, Iraqi Minister of Planning Salman al-Jumaili told Al-Monitor that Iraq’s population has reached almost 38 million people, so roughly two-thirds of the Iraqi population is eligible to vote in the coming elections.

Figures from IHEC point to an Iraqi tendency to stay home on election day even without a boycott. Out of the eligible voters, only 11 million have updated their electoral data, and only 3.5 million of those have picked up their electoral identity cards so far.

Of course, even those who have gotten their IDs won't necessarily vote. To encourage maximum participation, the IHEC announced that those who failed to update their biometric data can still vote using their old cards.

The reasons behind calls for a boycott are not limited to poor services, corruption and the same old faces. Boycott proponents also dislike the current method of allocating parliamentary seats and what they see as a biased IHEC and political system.

Ali Kasreem, a blogger who joined the 2015 protests demanding reforms, told Al-Monitor, “Boycotting the elections does not necessarily imply a rejection of democracy's foundations. Rather, it is a protest against the violations to the political process that prevent voters from bringing about a real change.”

Kareem, who started the #Boycotters hashtag, believes a boycott is the only way to influence the future. Simply casting a vote won't resolve the country's problems, he said.

Concern prevails in political quarters over the possibility of poor voter turnout. Although the law doesn't require a minimum participation threshold, a very low turnout rate would embarrass the Iraqi political blocs before the international community.

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Found in: haider al-abadi, parliamentary elections, iraqi elections, iraqi politics, voter apathy, election boycott, elections, boycott

Mustafa Saadoun is an Iraqi journalist covering human rights and also the founder and director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights. He formerly worked as a reporter for the Iraqi Council of Representatives. On Twitter: @SaadoonMustafa

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