BAGHDAD – Iraq’s cabinet decided on Tuesday to postpone the general election to October 10 from June, state news agency INA said.
The government last year set a general election for June 6, 2021, roughly a year ahead of when it would normally be held, but Iraq’s Independent High Election Commission (IHEC) on Monday proposed it be delayed to October to allow more time to prepare.
Early elections were a key demand of anti-government protesters who staged mass demonstrations that started in October 2019. Hundreds were killed by security forces and gunmen suspected of links to militia groups.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said on Tuesday the decision to set a new date to hold an early contest was made due to “technical” needs spelled out in a proposal submitted to the Cabinet to ensure a transparent electoral process. He did not provide details on what the technical issues were.
In a step toward holding elections, Iraq’s president ratified a new electoral law late last year aimed at giving political independents a chance at winning seats in parliament. The law was passed despite objections from political parties.
Iraq’s Independent High Election Commission is “keen on the integrity of the elections and equal opportunities for everyone to run the electoral process fairly,” Kadhimi explained.
He also said neither political opposition to early polls nor the state’s crumbling finances were to blame for the postponement.
The government, which is suffering through an unprecedented liquidity crisis due to low oil prices, said the commission’s budget is accounted for.
Parliament must also dissolve itself in order for the polls to be held.
Kadhimi was selected by parliament last May to head a government that would guide the country towards early elections. His predecessor Adel Abdul-Mahdi quit under pressure from protests in late 2019.
Activists who led rallies in October 2019 also demanded fairer elections and changes to Iraq’s voting process and election committee after widespread accusations of fraud in the last nationwide vote in 2018.
Pushing back elections by Kadhimi’s government could cause further resentment among activists and protesters who consider delaying elections an attempt to ignore their key demands.
“We took to the streets to demand change through early elections but now we are facing stalling and delay. This is like a stab to our demands,” said protest activist and law student Mutaz Imad in Baghdad.
The May 2018 federal elections were mired in allegations of voter fraud and corruption and saw historically low turnout.