Sluggish turnout in Iraqi elections

A sluggish turnout has been reported in Iraq’s parliamentary polls being held amid tight security, marking the country’s first election since Baghdad declared the defeat of Islamic State militants five months ago.

Thousands of security forces have been deployed at polling stations across Iraq on Saturday to prevent potential attacks by Islamic State militants.

But, in a sign of improved security in the country, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the reopening of Iraq’s airports, hours after they were closed as part of stringent security for the election.

Al-Abadi also ordered lifting restrictions on the movement of vehicles across Iraq, his office said.

However, he gave local security forces the authority to reimpose the curbs based on their assessment of security requirements of their areas.

Last month, Islamic State threatened to attack Iraq’s polling stations, saying any participant in the vote would be targeted.

Small numbers of voters cast their ballots by midday in several provinces of Iraq, some observers reported.

Voting the northern provinces of Diyala and Kirkuk was 30 per cent and 24 per cent respectively, independent portal Alsumaria News said, citing local electoral officials.

But a strong turnout was reported in the western city of Fallujah and in Mosul, an erstwhile stronghold of Islamic State in northern Iraq.

A commission in charge of the election reported no major violations, without giving specific figures on turnout.

The commission said there were breakdowns in some electronic voting devices, but were fixed soon. An electronic voting system is being used for the first time in Iraq in order to dispel concerns about vote rigging.

Some voters expressed enthusiasm. “Today, Iraqis try to make a mark by voting for candidates whom they hope will change the situation in the country for the better,” Ahmed Adel, a 34-year-old Mosul resident, said.

“We are voting for those who supported us during our ordeal of displacement and killing,” he added, referring to Islamic State’s atrocities in Mosul.

Some voters raised the Iraqi flag as they went to polls.

Nearly 7000 candidates, including 2011 women, from dozens of alliances are vying for the 329 seats in parliament. The elected legislature will later pick the president and prime minister.

The vote is taking place amid public concerns that outgoing lawmakers and politicians have done little to fight corruption, improve services and revitalise the economy in the oil-producing country.

Al-Abadi urged Iraqis to vote en masse. “These elections are crucial for Iraq’s future,” he said after casting his ballot in the central Baghdad district of al-Karada.

Al-Abadi’s main rivals are his predecessor Nouri al-Maliki and Hadi al-Amiri, the commander of an Iran-backed Shiite faction that fought against Islamic State.

Some 22.5 million Iraqis are eligible to vote. Official results are expected to be announced on Sunday.

The vote is Iraq’s fourth legislative election since a 2013 US-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

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