“We cannot expect that these individuals are going to defend people’s rights,” says Amjad al-Alwani, a human rights activist in Anbar. “They are the loyal employees of political parties that are already in power in Iraq. They will never give up that power. Because even if it’s not a lot of power, it still allows them to gain power, influence and money.”
Even the new names on the list of candidates, whose party affiliation is not yet clear, are not acting out of pure motives, al-Alwani argues. They’re connected to their own tribes and, given the nepotistic and corrupt political system, they’re just trying to get into politics for the same reasons as existing parties: power and money.
Muayad al-Jumaili, 51, ran as a candidate in the city of Ramadi during the 2014 elections. He says he has noticed a drop in the number of potential candidates. The country’s election authorities say there are 6,904 candidates registered to compete in total, around 1,100 less than in the 2014 elections.
Al-Jumaili believes he knows why. A number of political leaders have dropped out of the race, he says. And there are many reasons for this including scraps within the parties as well as the leaders’ realization that they are no longer as acceptable to the voters, thanks to events of the past four years. They abandoned the people of Anbar during the security crisis caused by the extremist Islamic State group, he says, and everybody knows it.
Additionally, al-Jumaili suggests, “some say that they have been promised senior positions in the new government if they abandon their campaigning and put all their efforts into supporting the new faces.”
Even if the new candidates have unblemished backgrounds, they are only a copy of the old candidates, complains Issa Khlaifawi, a 48-year-old resident of Fallujah.
By attaching their own campaigns to those of prominent politicians who have failed Anbar, they have already lost, Khlaifawi argues. “They just don’t know it yet.”
There is no doubt that the people of Anbar are taking the upcoming federal elections seriously. These will be the first elections since the Islamic State, or IS, group was pushed out of the province. The fight against the extremists has led to seismic changes in local society and politics and many citizens here would love to see free and fair elections, in which their vote truly counts. The thing is, they just don’t know if it will change anything.