An Iraqi woman casts her vote at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Basra, Iraq May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani

The elections in Iraq are three months away from their date, but the electoral competition has already begun, and the candidates have started campaigning even before the Independent High Electoral Commission allows them to do so.

And began printing promotional posters for the upcoming candidates even before these candidates know their numbers and the numbers of their electoral blocs, which will be announced by the Commission during the next two days through the lottery.

“He prints about 500 different posters a day for different candidates,” said Zaher al-Baydar, a printing press owner from Baghdad.

Al-Baydar added to The Eastern Herald that “candidates deliberately write loose sentences that do not indicate that they are advertising, because they may be subject to a fine.”

Such sentences, according to al-Baydar, include the phrase “The gentleman (…) thanks to the people of the (…) region for standing behind him in order to achieve prosperity,” or something similar to these sentences that “promote the candidates without exposing them to punishment.”

Tourist trips and paving the streets

Other candidates go further, as one of the candidates promised to give families tourist trips, indicating that poor families would have a chance to get it.

While other candidates publish pictures of paving streets at their expense, or replacing an electricity transformer with their money or influence, or by raising concrete blocks from a street.

A paving campaign posted on his page by a candidate
A paving campaign posted on his page by a candidate

According to this system, candidates can compete in one electoral district, and others from a different governorate or from another electoral district cannot vote for them.

Some young independent candidates say to The Eastern Herald website that these actions violate the integrity of the elections. “Rich parties or rich candidates buy votes in this way, which makes it impossible for the independent candidate to compete.”

They add that some citizens “take advantage of the electoral race to obtain a paved street (paved) or to replace a power transformer because they know through past experiences that candidates are available to provide services only during the election season.”

They also expect that “the current elections will not witness high rates of participation.”

One of the female candidates told The Eastern Herald that some of her voters asked her to pave a street worth one billion dinars in exchange for her election, asserting, “I did not and cannot agree, even if I had the money.”

According to the candidate, “buying electoral votes with services is not guaranteed, because the voter may go after providing him with a certain service and vote for another candidate.”

She added that “some candidates withdraw voter cards and hand them over to them shortly before the polling date,” stressing that “this does not help. The only solution”.

Muhammad Hakim, a professor of media and marketing at the Iraqi Future Institute, says that the marketing strategy for simple achievements such as paving a street or repairing a water pump “is a successful strategy” among the circles that will participate in the elections.

A governor added to The Eastern Herald website that “these circles are interested in short-term services and will vote for the parties that used to vote for them, while the “politically conscious majority” tends to boycott the entire election process, and it is the same group that mocks these candidates’ service initiatives.”

Attitudes to boycott the Iraqi elections have emerged since their date was announced months ago, but the assassination of the prominent Iraqi activist, Ihab al-Wazni, made the momentum of calls for a boycott increase significantly, especially among the parties that emerged from the so-called “October protesters.”

Last May, 17 currents and organizations emanating from the protest movement officially called for a boycott of the early elections promised by the government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, after he took power after months of protests against corruption and the political class.

On May 17, these currents announced in a joint statement from Karbala their rejection of the “oppressive authority” and not allowing “elections to be held as long as the weapons are unchecked and the assassinations continue,” which activists attribute to Shiite militias, amid the growing influence of armed factions with Iranian support on the political scene.

The Iraqi government has moved the date of holding the general elections to October 10, instead of the original date of June 2022, in response to pressure from protesters against the ruling elite, during demonstrations they organized starting in October 2019.

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