ISTANBUL (Aftenposten): Very few Iraqis used the right to vote in the elections. It benefited one of the parties in particular.
Muqtada al-Sadr was once described as the most dangerous man in Iraq.
After the United States invaded the country in 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein, Sadr decided to resist. The charismatic Shiite priest rallied the young men into an army called the Mahdi militia. Several times he attacked American soldiers. Sadr was soon declared an enemy of the United States.
In the last decade, however, Sadr has gone from being a notorious warlord to becoming a key player in Iraqi politics. And now it’s getting even more powerful.
Last Sunday, Iraq held its fifth parliamentary election since the 2003 invasion. Neither party won a majority. Tough government negotiations are now expected in the coming weeks.
However, many have already appointed Muqtada al-Sadr the big winner of the elections.
Early counts show that Sadr’s electoral roll secured at least 73 of 329 seats in parliament. This is a significant increase over the previous elections in 2018. At that time, the movement won 54 seats.
Once again, Sadr has proven to be a big favorite among Iraq’s Shiite Muslim majority. Now there are many indications that he will have to decide who will be the next prime minister of the country.
Who has the power?
Sadr himself is not expected to be interested in running for prime minister. Experts believe that, instead, he will nominate a candidate that he can control.
The prime minister must also have the support of at least half of parliament. Therefore, it is not certain that his party will win the post of prime minister, despite the fact that it appears to be the largest bloc in the National Assembly. Instead, Sadr will have the power to decide who will rule.
Current Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has had the support of Sadr. Therefore, you will probably be reassured by the first election results.
One bloc that will not win Sadr’s support is the so-called Fatah alliance. It is the political wing of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a collection of militias with the support of Iran. The PMF is formally considered part of the Iraqi security forces and receives, among other things, salaries from Baghdad. But critics say they are controlled from Tehran.
Sadr has made it his battle to fight all foreign influence in Iraq.
After the first election results came in on Monday, he gave a speech in which he spoke about reform and the fight against corruption. He called the party’s success a “victory over the militias.” It was interpreted as a sting for Iran.
That Sadr can act as a counterweight to Iranian influence in Iraq has made it somewhat easier for the West to swallow, he writes. Financial times.
Will fight the result
Iran has long had significant political influence in Iraq. But now the country stands out as one of them big losers in the Iraqi elections.
The Fatah Alliance only appears to have won 20 seats. It’s a steep decline since the last election, when they got 48.
Fatah leader Hadi al-Ameri has already come out and said the alliance will not accept the result as it looks now.
Observers fear that the electoral defeat could end up provoking backlash among the Iranian-backed militias.
Low attendance record
The big disappointment in the elections, however, was not the result, but the support. According to the Iraqi Election Commission, it was a record low: only 41 percent of eligible voters turned out.
In 2018, support was 44.5 percent. Four years earlier, it was much higher, up 62 percent.
It was decided to speed up the election by several months due to the violent protests that rocked Iraq in October 2019. In advance, observers expected many of the young protesters to come forward and vote.
Iraq’s population is very young, two-thirds are under 30 years. Now it may seem that many of them have lost faith in Iraqi democracy.
The group with the strongest participation was instead working-class Shiite Muslims. They form the core of Sadr’s followers. The scant support for the elections appears to have benefited their electoral list as well.