Iraq’s IHEC chief promises fair elections despite concerns

An Iraqi woman casts her vote at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Basra, Iraq May 12, 2018. (Reuters photo)

SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Iraq is taking measures to conduct fair elections despite attempts to compromise the upcoming polls, a senior official at the electoral commission said.

Head of Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission Judge Jaleel Adnan Khalaf said the IHEC had identified and thwarted attempts of voter fraud.

“What we hear here and there is that citizens are selling their voter cards,” Khalaf told AP in an interview this week.

“The commission has set strict regulations and strict rules,” he added.

Iraq is scheduled to hold early elections on October 10, in response to the anti-government protests against corruption and lack of public services.

The previous parliamentary elections in Iraq were held on May 12, 2018, and the next elections were originally scheduled to take place in 2022.

More than 220 U.N. and EU observers are expected to monitor the elections, IHEC member Imad Jamil said last week.

A new electoral law also came into force last year, its aim being to break the monopoly held by blocs of parties that share power, and promote independent candidates instead.

The new reformed electoral law divides Iraq into 83 constituencies, instead of 18, which theoretically allows more independents to participate.

The European Union and the United Nations hoped last week that voting would not be tainted by fraud and abstention.

The IHEC chairman told AP that the commission had been receiving complaints as Election Day nears, including incidents of parties using weapons to intimidate voters in addition to the selling of voter cards.

AP cited an official who spoke under condition of anonymity as saying that the IHEC was aware that members of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) would vote along with the general public on October 10 and not Oct. 8.

October 8 is designated for members of the armed forces to vote.

The militia group had not provided information to the commission about their fighters, the official told AP.

Khalaf further said as many as 24 million would be eligible for voting, with 3,449 candidates running in the election for 329 parliament seats, according to AP.

The IHEC would fulfill its legal obligation to announce the results of the election within 24 hours of polls closing, he added.

AP reported that a German firm, Hensoldt, was also tasked with auditing the machines and software that will be used to count and compile votes.

Past elections in Iraq have been marred by violence and vote-buying.

In the most recent legislative election in 2018, the turnout was 44.52 percent, an official figure that many believe was inflated.

Calls to boycott the vote have increased as the election draws closer, especially among young people who accuse political parties in Iraq of covering up and even encouraging political violence.

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