Poor turnout in Mosul as Iraq votes in early elections

At one polling centre, only five per cent of registered voters had arrived by noon

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Barely five years ago, the muezzins of Mosul were reciting the dark messages of ISIS, but on Sunday calls urging Mosulawis to vote rang from the same speakers as Iraqis went to the polls to choose a new parliament.

“Do not vote for the ones who you know are corrupted,” the crackling speaker screamed.

It was one of several moves by the authorities to encourage people to vote in an election it was feared might deliver an embarrassingly low turnout.

An Iraqi air force F16 screeched across the city’s skies throughout the day, the echoes bouncing through the empty corridors of a school turned into a polling station.

Many in Nineveh governorate and its capital, Mosul, feel the government in Baghdad has left the city to rebuild itself after it was severely damaged during the ISIS occupation and the extremist group’s bloody last stand.

While some see Baghdad as being unwilling to offer a helping hand with reconstruction, others go as far as to describe it as a punishment. This belief has exacerbated a wider disenchantment with the country’s political system, which is widely seen as corrupt.

In Mosul, where candidates canvassed amid the rubble, the apathy is especially bad.

By noon, the turnout was as poor as had been predicted. One official overseeing a polling station at a school in east Mosul told The National that only 5 per cent of registered voters had shown up.

“If people don’t want to come and vote, then, of course, that is their right. We have all the equipment – it’s working – but I still urge them to come and vote,” said Saleh Abu Ali, a volunteer with the Independent High Electoral Commission who was managing the voting centre.

Officials in the city were pinning their hopes on a late surge to bring turnout up to a respectable level. Najim Al Jabouri, the former general turned governor, was among them.

“I think in the afternoon the people will come quickly, and it will be busy in the voting stations,” he said, attempting to strike a reassuring tone.

Mosul was participating in its second national election since the city was recaptured from ISIS in 2017.

The city, along with the rest of Nineveh governorate, is hot property in this election, with 32 seats in the country’s Council of Representatives.

Ms Abu Ali, who usually works at Mosul University, said problems with the distribution of a new biometric voting card had probably affected the turnout.

“A lot of people didn’t receive their voting cards in time,” she said.

Millions of new biometric voter cards were issued by the Iraqi High Electoral Commission, replacing an old system that allowed Iraqis to vote if they presented several forms of ID. In this election, anyone wishing to vote had to present one of the new cards.

Soldiers running security at the school confirmed they had turned away a number of people who did not have the new cards.

Abdul Kareem Jassim, 60, held up his finger, still wet with black ink, for a picture.

“I’m proud to have voted, and even prouder to have voted for a woman,” he said.

“These people who didn’t receive their cards are devastated because they have seen that the previous parliament hasn’t done anything worth mentioning to rebuild Mosul.”

While many stayed home, whether or not by choice, those who did go out told The National they were putting their trust in new faces.

“The whole family is voting – and we are all voting for new, independent people,” said Nataaq Said, 45, as he left a polling station in the west of the city with his wife, Afrah.

“There must be change. We need new faces and fresh blood. We need people who are able to guarantee new jobs.”

There were plenty of new faces on the ballot paper. A new electoral law meant a record 432 candidates were standing in the governorate, many for small or independent parties.

Though several larger lists were expected to dominate, even the larger lists running in the governorate off the back of big political money were full of candidates who have never held office.

Whether any of the scores of independent candidates is elected to represent Nineveh in Baghdad will not be known for another day, at least.

As the afternoon sun dipped, two men stopped a pick-up truck by the ancient temple of Nabih Younis and began to tear down the campaign posters that have been ubiquitous in the city for months.

“We are taking all this for scrap,” said one of the men, gesturing towards the candidates’ still-beaming faces.

Updated: October 10, 2021, 4:47 PM