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Record low turnout suggests that vote to oust Iraq’s elite will leave them in power


BAGHDAD: Shia Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s party was the biggest winner in an Iraqi election on Monday, increasing the number of seats he holds in parliament, according to initial results, officials and a spokesperson for the Sadrist Movement. Former PM Nouri al-Maliki looked set to have the next largest win among Shia parties, initial results showed.
Iraq’s Shia groups have dominated governments and government formation since the US-led invasion of 2003. Sunday’s election was held several months early, in response to mass protests in 2019 that toppled a government and showed widespread anger against politicians whom many Iraqis say have enriched themselves at the expense of the country.
But a record low turnout suggested that a vote billed as an chance to wrest control from the ruling elite would do little to dislodge sectarian religious parties in power since 2003. A count based on initial results from several provinces plus the capital Baghdad, verified by local government officials, suggested Sadr had won over 70 seats, which if confirmed could give him considerable influence in forming a government.
However, Sadr’s group is just one of several that will have to enter negotiations to form a coalition capable of dominating parliament and forming an administration, a period of jockeying for position that may take weeks or longer. Sadr broadcast a live speech on state TV claiming victory and promising a nationalist government free of foreign interference. “We welcome all embassies that do not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs,” he said, adding that celebrations would take place in the streets “without weapons”.
The unpredictable populist cleric has been a dominant figure and often kingmaker in Iraqi politics since the US invasion. He opposes all foreign interference in Iraq, whether by the US, against which he fought an insurgency after 2003, or by neighbouring Iran, which he has criticised for its close involvement in Iraqi politics.

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