Early voting has begun in Iraq’s parliamentary elections, with security forces, prisoners and internally displaced people casting their ballots two days ahead of Sunday’s general vote.
Iraqis are to elect a new parliament in the fifth such vote since a United States-led invasion in 2003 overthrew longtime leader Saddam Hussein.
A total of 329 seats are up for grabs in the election, which was moved forward from 2022 as a concession to youth-led pro-democracy protests that erupted in late 2019.
But many voters are expected to stay away amid widespread anger over corruption and ineffectual governance that has failed to meet the aspirations of Iraq’s 40 million people, 60 percent of whom are aged under 25.
There are fears voter turnout could drop below the 44.5 percent figure registered in 2018.
Mahmoud Ezzo, a professor at the college of political science at Mosul University, said “there are many calls for a boycott”.
More than 25 million citizens are eligible to vote – but not nationals living abroad. Voters are supposed to present a biometric card for what was conceived as a fully electronic voting process. However, some have not received the cards and authorities say provisions have been made to ensure they are not excluded.
Al Jazeera’s Ali Hashem, reporting from the capital, Baghdad, said there were 600 polling stations across the country dedicated to Friday’s early voting.
“This election means a lot to Iraqis, especially with it being the main demand of the protests in 2019,” he said. “The new electoral law will allow more independent candidates to the parliament. However, there is a bit of scepticism among the Iraqi public – mainly the Iraqi civil society – on whether this is going to be possible.”
More than 3,240 candidates are in the running, including 950 women.
One-quarter of seats are reserved for female candidates, and nine for minorities including Christians and Yazidis.