Iraq will hold its next parliamentary elections nearly a year early, in June 2021, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has announced.
“June 6, 2021, has been fixed as the date for the next legislative elections,” he said on Friday in a televised speech.
“Everything will be done to protect and ensure the success of these polls.”
The United Nations praised al-Kadhimi’s announcement saying it would promote “greater stability and democracy”.
Al-Kadhimi came to power in May after months of protests forced his predecessor to resign.
The next parliamentary elections had originally been due to take place in May 2022. Iraq’s parliament must still ratify the election date.
A key demand of protesters
Elections in Iraq are sometimes marred by violence and often by fraud.
Early elections are a key demand of anti-government protesters who staged months of mass demonstrations last year and were killed in their hundreds by security forces and gunmen suspected of links to armed groups.
The mass protests that began in October, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets of Baghdad and across the south, demanded the political system be dismantled, pointing to endemic corruption and what many see as the malign influence of sectarian interests.
They accuse the political elite, especially legislators, of squandering Iraq’s oil wealth to line their own pockets.
Al-Kadhimi was nominated in April, months after his predecessor Adel Abdul Mahdi stepped down – the first time a prime minister has resigned before the end of his term since the US-led invasion 2003.
Abdel Mahdi’s government proposed to Parliament a new electoral law, which was quickly passed 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.
Activists have 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.
Voter turnout in Iraq’s last election was 44.5 percent, but especially low in some impoverished southern Shia Muslim areas. Many Iraqis say they have no faith in Iraq’s electoral system.
Al-Kadhimi’s government faces a health crisis with a rapid spread of the coronavirus, a fiscal crisis because of low oil revenues and exports and challenges from powerful armed groups which oppose him.