Iraq will hold its next parliamentary elections nearly a year early, the premier announced Friday, as he seeks to make good on promises he offered when he came to power.
“June 6, 2021, has been fixed as the date for the next legislative elections,” said Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who took the reins in May after months of protests forced his predecessor to resign.
“Everything will be done to protect and ensure the success of these polls,” Kadhemi said in a televised speech.
Elections in Iraq are sometimes marred by violence and often by fraud.
The next parliamentary elections had originally been due to take place in May 2022.
But months of protests began in October, with thousands taking to the streets of Baghdad and across the south.
Demonstrators demanded that the political system be dismantled, pointing to endemic corruption and what many see as the malign influence of sectarian interests.
Kadhemi was nominated in April, months after Adel Abdel Mahdi stepped down — the first time a premier has resigned before the end of his term since the US-led invasion of 2003.
Kadhemi’s government on Thursday said a total of 560 people had died in protests since October.
Nearly all were demonstrators killed at the hands of the security forces, according to an adviser to the premier.
Abdel Mahdi’s government proposed to parliament a new electoral law that was quickly passed late last year.
But the section detailing voting procedures and constituency boundaries has not been finalised, according to diplomats and experts.
It was not clear what role Iraq’s election commission — regularly accused of bias — would have in organising the polls.
The United Nations mission in Iraq (UNAMI) welcomed Kadhemi’s announcement.
“Early elections fulfil a key popular demand on the road to greater stability and democracy in Iraq,” it said in a statement.
“The United Nations is ready to provide support and technical advice as requested by Iraq to ensure free, fair and credible elections that win the public’s trust.”
The 2018 election was marred by a record low turnout of 44.5 percent, according to official figures. Independent observers believe the true turnout was much lower.
Voters abandoned major political parties in favour of Shiite leader and former militia chief Moqtada Sadr, who allied with communists on an anti-corruption platform.
Iraq was earlier this year at the centre of heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran, after the US killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani — alongside Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis — in a January drone strike in Baghdad.
Together with months of political crisis, Iraq is also grappling with a major economic downturn due to the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the demand for oil, the lifeblood of the country’s economy.