Iraq’s top Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani on Wednesday called on the public to head to the polls on October 10 and vote for a new government.
The country will hold early elections – a key demand of the protesters who have taken to the streets since October 2019 – which will allow the politician who secures the most support from parliamentary blocs to form a government.
“The supreme religious authority encourages everyone to participate consciously and responsibly in the coming elections,” said Mr Al Sistani’s office.
“Although it is not without some shortcomings, it remains the best way to achieve a peaceful future and avoids the risk of falling into chaos and political obstruction,” it said.
Mr Al Sistani does not make public appearances and typically issues a weekly Friday sermon through a representative. He is Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric and has given significant support to the country’s protest movement.
Iraqi President Barham Salih supported Mr Al Sistani’s statement, saying the elections were critical for the country's future.
“There is need for broad participation to fix the flaws in governance and move towards the desired reform,” said Mr Salih.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi also backed Mr Al Sistani's words and said his government would protect the electoral process.
"We call on candidates to abide by the law and regulations, and voters to participate broadly and choose well," he said.
The statement by Mr Al Sistani could increase the turnout, which is crucial in this election, Harith Hasan, a Senior Fellow-Carnegie Middle East Centre said on Twitter.
“The statement said the election should be held without the impact of illegal arms or foreign intervention,” Mr Hasan said.
Mr Al Kadhimi pledged to hold early elections next June when he assumed office in May.
The vote was originally scheduled to take place in May, 2022.