Polls Give Iraq’s Reformers the Advantage, the Vote May Be Theirs to Lose

Originally published by Fikra Forum – August 20, 2021

This October will mark the two-year anniversary of Iraq’s Tishreen protest movement that shook the country’s political establishment, bringing down the government of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and compelling Baghdad to schedule early parliamentary elections. October is also when those elections are currently set to take place.

Students of Baghdad universities at a demonstration near the Higher Education Ministry building in Baghdad. January 26, 2020. Photo by Azhar al-Rubaie.

The movement and its supporters are demanding systemic reforms to address state-sanctioned corruption, rising unemployment—particularly among the country’s youth majority—and a continuing lack of essential services. When government forces and militias loyal to Iran responded to the largely peaceful protests with excessive and lethal force, killing hundreds and wounding thousands, justice and accountability were added to their list of demands.

The question now is whether the Iraqis who turned out on the streets of Baghdad and cities across the south of the country almost two years ago will turn out in similarly large numbers on election day, currently scheduled for October 10. According to a nationwide public opinion survey conducted by the Enabling Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC), candidates who win their support could have a commanding edge over their competition.

The survey was conducted in June 2021, a month after the assassination of prominent activist Ehab al-Wazni and within weeks of the government’s botched attempt to bring his suspected killer, militia leader Qasim Muslih, to justice. EPIC conducted phone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,068 eligible Iraqi voters as respondents across Iraq’s 18 provinces, with a 3% margin of error and 95% confidence level.

We found that a large percentage of respondents, slightly more than a third, plan to sit out the upcoming elections. Among possible reasons for this decision, trust in the legitimacy of elections as a pathway for political representation remains low. Contributing to that skepticism are the “dangerous violations” that mired the previous elections. Looking back, a clear majority of respondents, more than 60%, stated the belief that the 2018 election did not reflect the will of the people.

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