Former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared poised for the next victory among the Shiite parties, initial results showed on Monday.
Iraq’s Shiite groups have dominated governments and government formation since the 2003 US-led invasion that overthrew Sunni leader Saddam Hussein and catapulted the Shiite majority and Kurds into power.
Sunday’s election took place several months earlier, in response to mass protests in 2019 that toppled a government and showed widespread anger against political leaders who many Iraqis say got rich at the country’s expense. .
But a record turnout of 41% suggested that an election billed as an opportunity to wrest control from the ruling elite would do little to oust the sectarian religious parties in power since 2003.
A tally based on early results from several Iraqi provinces and the capital Baghdad, verified by local government officials, suggested that al-Sadr had won more than 70 seats, which, if confirmed, could give considerable influence in the formation of a government.
A spokesperson for al-Sadr’s office said the number was 73 seats. Local media published the same figure.
An Iraqi election commission official said al-Sadr came first, but did not immediately confirm how many seats his party had won.
Early results also showed that pro-reform candidates from the 2019 protests won multiple seats out of the 329 members of parliament.
Iran-backed parties linked to militias accused of killing some of the nearly 600 people who have died during the protests have taken a hit, winning fewer seats than in the last elections in 2018, according to initial results and reports. local officials.
Al-Sadr has increased his power over Iraq since taking first place in the 2018 election where his coalition won 54 seats.
The unpredictable populist religious leader has been a dominant figure and often a kingmaker in Iraqi politics since the American invasion.
He opposed any foreign interference in Iraq, whether from the United States, against which he led an armed uprising after 2003, or from neighboring Iran, which he criticized for its close involvement in politics. Iraqi.
Al-Sadr, however, is regularly in Iran, officials close to him say, and has called for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, where Washington maintains a force of around 2,500 in an ongoing struggle against ISIS. (ISIS).
Speaking from Baghdad, Iraqi analyst Ali Anbori said al-Sadr’s victory came as no surprise.
“Muqtada worked hard to gain an election lead. They [the Sadrists] have a good electoral machine, and they use all kinds of means to achieve their goals, ”Anbori told Al Jazeera.
“Moreover, Muqtada is not that far from Iran itself. Ultimately, all the groups will sit together and form a government under the aegis of the Iranian regime, ”he added.
“Muqtada has been the main political actor in Iraq since 2005,” Anbori said, explaining that no Iraqi prime minister has taken this position without al-Sadr’s tacit consent.
Anbori, however, said that “al-Sadr and his group being influential actors accused of corruption,” he did not expect al-Sadr to respond to the grievances of the people who pushed them into the streets during the movement. protest 2019.
New law, same big parties
The elections in Iraq since 2003 have been followed by protracted negotiations that can last for months and serve to distribute government posts among the dominant parties.
Monday’s result is unlikely to radically alter the balance of power in Iraq or the wider region.
Sunday’s vote took place under a new law proposed by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi as a way to loosen the grip of established political parties and pave the way for independent and pro-reform candidates. Electoral districts have been reduced and the practice of allocating seats to lists of party-sponsored candidates has been abandoned.
But many Iraqis did not believe the system could be changed and chose not to vote.
The official turnout figure of just 41 percent suggests the vote failed to capture the imagination of the public, especially young Iraqis who protested in crowds two years ago.
“I did not vote. It’s not worth it, ”Hussein Sabah, 20, told Reuters news agency in Iraq’s southern port in Basra. “There is nothing that can benefit me or others. I see young graduates without jobs. Before the elections, [politicians] everything came to them. After the elections, who knows?
Al-Kadhimi’s predecessor, Adel Abdul Mahdi, resigned after security forces and gunmen killed hundreds of protesters in 2019 during a crackdown on protests. The new prime minister called the vote months earlier to show the government was responding to demands for more accountability.
In practice, powerful parties have proven to be the most effective in mobilizing supporters and candidates, even under the new rules.
Iraq has held five parliamentary elections since the fall of Saddam. The rampant sectarian violence unleashed during the US occupation declined, and the ISIL fighters who seized a third of the country in 2014 were defeated in 2017.
But many Iraqis say their lives have not improved yet. Infrastructure is dilapidated and health care, education and electricity are inadequate.