On January 31st, 47-year old Abu Amir left his house in Saba’ Qosour, a poor neighborhood in north-east Baghdad, to cast his vote for the Madaniyoun (civilians) coalition, dominated by the Iraqi Communist Party.
Abu Amir, who works as a guard in a local primary school, is a religious person who performs all rituals and regularly visits Shiite holy places. However, on this Election Day, he did not vote for an Islamic party as he has done in previous elections. Abu Amir, like many others living in his neighborhood, feels let down by religious parties that have failed to keep their promises since they gained control of Baghdad’s provincial council in 2005.
Despite the huge number of Islamic party posters in his area, Abu Amir says he can no longer give them his backing.
“These words are mere slogans… none of them remembered this neighborhood and its difficulties,” said Abu Amir.
Despite the fact that Abu Amir and some of his friends voted for the Madaniyoun coalition, it is unlikely to win many votes in this poor Shiite neighborhood. Two of Abu Amir’s sons, contrary to his own convictions, voted for other candidates. One voted for the State of Law coalition backed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and the other voted for the Sadrist-backed al-Ahrar list.
It seems that a high percentage of people living in this area have voted for these same two lists. The area, close to Sadr city, contains a permanent presence of Sadrist supporters.
During the election campaign, Saba’ Qosour has witnessed a remarkable series of developments. It has seen an unprecedented election campaign with posters spread extensively across houses, walls and electricity poles. Yet, equally striking has been the lack of posters representing the State of Law and Shaheed al-Mihrab coalitions which were torn down as soon as they were displayed publicly.
One week before the election the provincial council sought to gain favor by initiating a “reconstruction effort” such as the paving of roads and an improvement in water services. People were well aware that this sudden reconstruction effort was an attempt to boost the image of the incumbent council.
Yet, all reconstruction efforts ceased suddenly following the burning of a huge colored poster of Saber al-Isawi, the head of Baghdad municipality, and one of the major candidates of the Shaheed al-Mihrab coalition. Work resumed the day after the election.
In any case, voters in this neighborhood, inhabited by approximately 40,000 people, reflect a widespread desire across the country to see new members with real concern for their provinces running the country’s councils.
Although final results have yet to be announced, preliminary results indicate a substantive change away from religious parties in the national mood. They also reflect the decline in impact of religious propaganda and political money. Despite the huge electoral campaigns run by bigger parties, it seems that the number of votes they secured is relatively smaller than past elections.
Liberal and secular parties, while poor in resources and the quality of their campaigns, have provided hope with new faces and slogans responding to the new mood of voters across the country.
But, Ahmed Rubaie, a journalist living in the area, said that attitudes could well quickly change in favor of Islamic lists once more if the new councils fail to improve conditions.