Parliamentary elections in Iraq are scheduled for October 10 but a key participant in the previous round, the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), will be boycotting this year’s process. A write-up on the party’s website in July declared that it would not participate, arguing that the political atmosphere in the country is not conducive for holding elections. The party also criticized the political class for failing to address the issue of reforms in the political system before conducting any elections, as demanded by the popular demonstrations ongoing in the country since October 2019.
The ICP was part of the largest faction in the Iraqi parliament in the 2018 elections. Its alliance with the Muqtada al-Sadr-led Sadrist Movement, called Sairoon (Sairoun), had won 54 seats out of the total 329 seats in the parliament. The ICP won two seats.
Though Muqtada al-Sadr had earlier announced the boycott of this year’s elections, citing “rampant corruption and unfair competition,” he finally decided to participate, leaving the ICP as the sole major party to stay away.
Non-addressal of issues raised during protests
The ICP withdrew its support to the government led by Adil Abdul Mahdi following the outbreak of the popular protests in October 2019 over the lack of governance, widespread corruption, and rising economic hardships for the common people. The ICP has long demanded a complete overhaul of the country’s political system before holding any new elections.
The protests, which are continuing in one form or another, forced Mahdi to resign. Musfata al-Kadhimi was appointed as the caretaker prime minister and fresh elections were announced a year in advance as the five-year term of the 2018 parliament was supposed to end in 2022. The announcement of early elections, without addressing the issues raised by the protesters, has led to widespread disenchantment among the people.
In the protests, the issue of the Muhasasa system of quotas for ethnic-religious groups in government posts, introduced in the 2005 constitution, was raised prominently. There are demands for this system to be completely abolished as it is seen as a major reason for inefficiency and corruption among the political class.
The protesters also demanded that all those responsible for the killing of activists and demonstrators in protests be held accountable for securing the necessary environment for conducting elections. More than 600 people have been killed in the protests.
According to activists related to the ICP, the decision to withdraw from the elections was taken by the party after proper consultation and an internal referendum in which the overwhelming majority voted in its favor.
Lack of conducive political atmosphere
The ICP had also demanded that the government act on its resolve to control arms in private hands and reduce the role of militias in the country’s politics before holding elections. According to the ICP, fighting among armed groups deny any fair opportunity to the political groups to campaign and mobilize voters due to widespread fear.
In a statement issued on July 24 this year, the party said that “unless a safe electoral environment is provided, through a fair Election Law and a truly independent Electoral Commission, measures that prevent the use of political money, ending the proliferation of arms, and holding the worst of the corrupt accountable,” participation in the election will bring no real change or betterment in people’s lives.
The party argues that due to the failure to bring about the systemic reforms promised by previous governments, Iraqis are today suffering from lack of basic amenities such as electricity and health facilities, among other problems. Previous governments have also failed to resolve the chronic unemployment issue in the country, which is affecting the lives of the youth.
Iraq, which has one of the world’s largest oil reserves, has suffered economic hardship for a long period now. Due to UN sanctions between 1991 and 2003, the living standards remained low leading to widespread suffering. After the US-led invasion of the country in 2003, Iraq saw a massive rise in inequality, as well as increasing poverty and unemployment.
According to different sources, the official poverty rate in the country ranges between 27% -32% and the unemployment rate has jumped over 40% in recent years, with the economy overwhelmingly dependent on oil. A large number of Iraqis – around 12% – are forced to live in slums.
On the other hand, the resumption of oil production has created a large elite in the country with strong links to the government. They follow an informal clientelism, with some having their own militias. This denies equal access to resources and jobs to common Iraqis. The ICP claims that the present political elite does not have the intention to bring any decisive change in the current economic and political system, and that the elections will only reproduce the same power structures.
People’s Way, ICP’s official mouthpiece, said on October 6 that “the party is convinced” that the outcome of the present elections “will not change the composition of the upcoming parliament with little motive to address citizens’ needs and aspirations.”
One of the activists quoted in a report in People’s Way earlier this month said, “We do not see that the country’s situation will improve, especially in the light of elections that reproduce the same failed system every time.”