Iraqi President cautions against early elections

Free and fair elections must be conducted away from fraud and interference, says Barham Salih

Iraq's President Barham Salih instrcuts newly appointed Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Baghdad, Iraq April 9, 2020. The Presidency of the Republic of Iraq Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Iraq needs reforms, security and stability before it can hold a free and fair election, President Barham Salih cautioned on Sunday after the government said it plans an early national poll.

The administration of Mustafa Al Kadhimi said in July that early elections will be held next June, a year before the current parliamentary term ends. It has been a key demand of many of the anti-government protesters on the streets since last October.

"Reforms requires political will and the holding of early, free and fair elections that will give priority to public opinion and demands and are away from the power of arms, fraud and interference," he said during a conference on combating violence against women.

"We are in a country that is going through the process of democracy, we aspire and strive to restore the status of the state and impose the law at all levels,” he said.

Iraqi’s parliament must still ratify any amended election date.

Mr Al Kadhimi urged Mr Salih and Parliamentary Speaker Mohammed Al Halbousi to send the request to parliament in “order to start the process”.

The prime minister took office in May, replacing Adel Abdul Mahdi who resigned amid a bloody crackdown against protesters demanding deep reforms.

Anti-government protests that erupted last October demanded the overhaul of the political class along with early elections as well as the accountability for months of violence used against them.

Security forces and militias used live ammunition and teargas against demonstrators that led to the killings of hundreds.

Activists have also demanded fairer elections and changes to Iraq’s voting process and election committee after widespread accusations of fraud in the last nationwide vote in 2018.

Last year, Mr Mahdi's government passed a new electoral law, but the voting procedures and constituency boundaries are yet to be set.

The new law allows voters to choose individual politicians rather than selecting from a list of political parties. The changes aim to make elections fairer.

Each parliamentarian will represent a specific electoral district instead of groups of legislators representing entire provinces.

But demonstrators have protested against this and have called for a change in the political system.