Latest: Iraq election turnout was 41%
The results of Iraq's first elections under new electoral law will be revealed at 3pm local time on Monday afternoon, within 24 hours of polls closing, the Iraqi electoral commission has said.
They are likely to be overshadowed by the confirmation of a low voter turnout, despite Iraq's prime minister hailing the process as "safe and fair" – a verdict echoed by the electoral commission chairman.
"Elections were completed in a fair manner, the results will be released within 24 hours and the voter turnout numbers will be released within two hours," judge Jalil Adnan said.
Officials and mosques urged residents to head to polling stations throughout the day, but very few responded.
“The turnout has reached more than 20 per cent of the registered voters,” the head of the elections commission, Galeel Adnan, told the state-run Iraqi News Agency.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi tweeted as polls closed: "Thank God, we have fulfilled our duty and our promise to hold fair and safe elections."
Mr Al Kadhimi was the first senior official to cast his vote and he appealed to all Iraqis to do the same.
“We have passed the middle of the day and the electoral process has been smooth," he said.
"I thank all those who participated in the polls, and I call on the voters who have not yet voted to quickly head to the polling station and choose their representatives.
“We all have to work to change our reality,” Mr Al Kadhimi said earlier after casting his ballot in Baghdad. “Go out and vote, for the sake of Iraq and your future.”
The vote was held months ahead of schedule under a new electoral law, introduced in response to the demands of the pro-reform, youth-led protest movement that began in October 2019,prompted by rampant corruption, poor services and a lack of jobs.
The election is the fifth since the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship by a US-led invasion in 2003.
A total of 3,249 candidates are vying for the 329 seats in parliament. Among them are 951 women, who are guaranteed 25 per cent, or 83, of the seats under the new law.
Out of about 25 million registered voters, more than 23 million have updated their information to be eligible to take part.
“All the reports that we received to the moment indicate that the voting process has been carried out in normal and calm situation,” Saeid Abu Ali, deputy head of the Arab league observers, told INA.
“We didn't receive any report of grave violations."
President Barham Salih said the election presented an opportunity for Iraqis to “restore the initiative for reform and development”.
“We must accomplish the task by participating broadly and protecting the voices of Iraqis to decide the future of their country,” Mr Salih said on Twitter.
The elections are not expected to change the country’s political landscape because the established parties, mainly those with links to militias, are likely to hold the balance of power after the vote.
“We only hope to have peace and stability in this country,” Ali Al Greywit, 40, who works at a medical lab, told The National after casting his vote in Baghdad's Karrada district.
“We need nothing more than peace and stability.”
Few people trickled to polling stations in Baghdad's western Karkh side.
“I feel something different in these elections,” Rihab Mohammed Ali, 49, told The National after casting her ballot in Baghdad's Mansour district. “I'm optimistic that we can see some change.”
“I voted for an independent candidate because all those we elected before sought only their interests. The independent candidate seeks reforms to the country.”
Walking slowly with a cane and clutching prayer beads, Tariq Hassan reached the polling station in nearby Al Jamiaa.
“We hope that we can get an honest person who can salvage us from the gang of corrupt people,” Mr Hassan, 75, said, wearing his face mask under his chin.
“May God protect us and the country.”
The picture was different in Baghdad's eastern district of Sadr City, the stronghold of the Shiite firebrand cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, where a festive mood prevailed.
Men and women flocked to the polling stations with their children, who held Iraqi flags and the logo of the Sadrist Movement.
It features a fist wrapped with the Iraqi flag and holding a cane, a reference to Mr Al Sadr's father, a revered cleric who was killed by Saddam Hussein.
“We will not abandon Abu Hashim,” Mousa Shaghati, 45, a carpenter, said, emerging from a polling station in Sadr City with his wife and son, using the nickname for Mr Al Sadr.
“We all voted for the Sadrist bloc,” Mr Shagati said, wearing a T-shirt with Mr Al Sadr's picture.
Tight security measures have been put in place to protect voters.
Roads leading to polling centres have been closed off with razor wire and security forces are on patrol.
Authorities closed airports and land crossings from 9am on Sunday until 6am on Monday. Lorries with capacity of more than two tonnes, motorcycles and auto rickshaws were not allowed on the streets.
Movement between the provinces was also prohibited. All shops and restaurants have been ordered to remain closed until Monday morning, excluding pharmacies, bakeries, supermarkets and grocers.
Besides allowing independent candidates to contest, the new electoral law has divided the country into constituencies, with seats to be allotted to whoever gets the most votes in each electoral district.
In previous elections, political parties were awarded seats based on their share of the national vote.
The new law and an eagerness for change have encouraged independent candidates to compete against major Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political parties.
The main Shiite groups are the Sadrist Movement, the Fatah Alliance made up of Iran-backed Shiite militias, and the National State Forces Alliance created by former prime minister Haider Al Abadi and Shiite cleric Ammar Al Hakim.
Security stepped up before Iraq elections
Two main Sunni alliances are Taqadum, led by Parliament Speaker Mohamed Al Halbousi, and Azim, led by tycoon Khamis Al Kanjar. Both men are from Anbar province in western Iraq.
In the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, Kurds could choose from among the two main parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and smaller opposition parties.
Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of the Kurdish Regional Government, also urged voters to take part.
“I hope today’s federal elections in Iraq succeed peacefully, and I urge every eligible voter to turn up and cast their vote,” he said on Twitter.
Activists of the October 2019 protest movement are divided about the elections. Some called for a boycott while others ran as independents or within newly formed political parties or secular alliances.
The main activist party is the Imtidad Movement, formed in the southern city of Nassiriya, which put 38 candidates in nine provinces.