Iraq's young voters believe election can change political landscape

Vote begins in less than a month with more than two million young people registered

Iraqi youth are working to encourage voting as elections promised to curb anti-government protests draw nearer.

On October 10 Iraqis will cast their votes to choose between nearly 3,300 candidates for 328 parliamentary seats.

There are about 24 million registered voters eligible to take part in the upcoming ballot. Of these, 2.6 million are young voters between 18 and 20 years old, according to the Independent High Electoral Commission Iraq (IHEC), the official body that oversees polls.

Many young voters believe their vote will present a new vision for the battered country.

"Our last chance to save the country is with these elections," Yasir Kamal, 19, a first-year law student, told The National.

Mr Kamal has been using the social media platform Instagram to motivate his friends to renew their biometric voting cards so their voice can be counted.

The anti-government protests that began in late 2019 were sparked by the public’s anger over widespread corruption, high levels of unemployment, the deterioration of security and stability and lack of basic services, such as water and electricity.

These pressures led to the resignation of former prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in December 2019.

Mustafa Al Kadhimi, who assumed the post in May 2020, vowed to hold early elections as part of his reform programme. He is seeking to appease protesters who rose up in Baghdad and Iraq's south.

Mr Kamal participated in the protest movement in Baghdad, which gave him a wider understanding of the country’s political scene.

"The protests opened my eyes to the politics in this country,” he said.

"We went out to overthrow the government, but we lost hope quickly," he said.

Quote
We only have hope, I’m rooting for a bigger voter turnout this year, it’s the only way we can create some solid changes
Hassan Mustafa, 21, medical student

Fatima Mohammed, 18, a high school pupil from Baghdad, said she wants to vote to be heard.

"I would like to vote, but people around me are not taking me seriously,” she told The National.

"When I asked my dad to drive me to obtain my voting card, he said he'd lost hope in the political system,” she said.

Schools were one of the primary places where young voters were given a chance to register to vote, but the Covid-19 pandemic closed many schools, presenting young voters with a challenge to participate.

IHEC has installed more than 1,000 mobile teams that have gone go door to door to register voters in their home; some new voters have been left behind.

The 2018 elections featured a record low turnout with just 44 per cent of eligible voters casting ballots. The results were widely contested.

This time around, Mr Al Kadhimi's government has requested UN monitoring on election day.

In recent months, the UN special envoy to Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, urged Iraqis, especially the under-25s who make up 60 per cent of the population, to vote and warned against boycotting the election.

The elections are also being held under a reformed electoral law that divides Iraq into 83 constituencies, instead of 18, which theoretically allows more independents to participate.

For Hassan Mustafa, 21, a medical student from Baghdad University, the elections are the last resort to deliver major changes in his country’s political sphere.

“We only have hope, I’m rooting for a bigger voter turnout this year, it’s the only way we can create some solid changes,” Mr Mustafa told The National.

He said that although many people have lost faith that elections can bring about positive results he has seen a push by the younger generation to voice their demands.

“This time around and since the protest movement began the youth are pushing for major changes, many believe it could happen."

"We have to start believing,” he said.

The Iraqi medical student urged his contemporaries to vote because he believes that boycotting the ballot will not create any radical changes.

Updated: September 19th 2021, 5:12 PM
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