Iraq elections: protest centre of Basra experiences gitches

Malfunctions dissuade Iraqis from voting for next parliament

Polling stations in Basra, Iraq's hotspot city for protests, faced technical issues on Sunday morning that discouraged residents from voting in an early election called by the protest movement.

Iraqis across the country were urged to take part in a vote regarded as one of the most important since Iraq first held a free election in 2005, after the US-led invasion of 2003.

The failure of successive governments to combat endemic corruption, reduce unemployment and improve collapsing public services has become a rallying point for regular protests.

Basra witnessed some of the largest demonstrations in 2018 and 2019.

“There were some technical malfunctions that occurred this morning across Basra but we managed to solve them,” said Haider Al Silawi, head of the city's high electoral commission.

“Biometric voting cards have already been issued, but not many people have collected them.”

By midday, a quarter of registered voters had cast their ballots at 514 polling stations in the city, an official linked to the electoral commission told The National.

Polling stations opened at 7am and closed at 6pm across the country.

Iraq closed its airspace and land border crossings as voters headed to the polls.

Nearly 1.6 million people in Basra have the right to vote, having registered online and received their electoral cards, said Adeed Abdul Khaliq, media officer of the High Elections Commission in the city.

The day went by “smoothly without any recorded violations, especially in the presence of international observers,” Mr Abdul Khaliq said.

Basra’s health authorities have set out social distancing rules to combat the spread of Covid-19.

“Ninety-two ambulances were prepared in the centre, districts and sub-districts. They were placed near the polling stations, with doctors and paramedics, in addition to the presence of mobile health teams in the polling stations,” Abbas Al Tamimi, the director general of Basra's health department, said.

“We are urging people to wear masks and residents have co-operated with us.”

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020, the country has recorded more than two million cases and 22,000 deaths.

The country is grappling with interlinked economic, health and security crises, as well as rampant corruption that has taken a toll on public services.

The polls were brought forward by seven months after protesters called for the overhaul of the political system in October 2019.

Basra has been hard-hit by poor service delivery, even though the governorate is rich in natural resources and is Iraq’s main oil producing region.

Protests started in 2018, when deteriorating water quality in the city poisoned 100,000 residents, overwhelming hospitals. The electricity supply also collapsed that summer as demand for power surged and temperatures reached 50ºC.

Hope for a better future

Engineer Reham Muhammad, 28, said she hoped the elections could bring about change.

“We are the generation of change and we want it to be a government that cares about youth matters and provides job opportunities, one that is keen on the country's interest,” Ms Muhammad said.

“I am happy today and I came out to vote. I wish that all young people would come out and vote, rather than stay at home asking for change.”

Ms Muhammad said electing independent candidates was the way forward.

The next government will face challenges to create the changes demanded by voters, said student Badr Haider, 22.

“It’s true that the process of change in the country is not easy, but I hope that all young people vote to bring about the change they seek,” he said.

He hopes that the education and health sectors will be a top priority for the next government.

Updated: October 10th 2021, 7:27 PM