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Iraqis cast their ballots in the country’s provincial elections this week, the first such vote in a decade and one that many believe will set the stage for the next parliamentary polls in 2025, the Associated Press reported.

The vote will select new provincial council members, who will later appoint new governors in the country’s 18 provinces.

Voting began Saturday and was initially restricted to members of Iraq’s security forces and internally displaced people living in camps. Main polling will take place Monday and the results are expected Tuesday.

Saturday’s vote showed a turnout of around 67 percent, according to electoral authorities.

Even so, political analysts and Iraqis doubt that the weekend turnout would lead to a higher number of voters in Monday’s vote. Analyst Sajad Jiyad said that millions of eligible voters have failed to register and low turnout has been a feature of Iraqi elections since 2005.

Meanwhile, many voters lamented that there was “no real electoral program” and pointed to widespread corruption in the political campaigns.

Others expressed concerns that the elections could descend into violence across the provinces.

Influential Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr – who officially resigned from politics in 2022 – has urged his supporters to boycott the provincial elections, citing concerns about reinforcing the influence of a corrupt political class.

Some of his supporters have torn down electoral posters and vandalized campaign offices.

Advocates, who previously participated in the 2019 anti-government protests and oppose Iraq’s ruling parties, have also pledged to sit out of the vote.

In March, a controversial election law was passed, enlarging electoral districts and raising concerns about diminishing opportunities for smaller parties and independent candidates to secure seats.

The Coordination Framework, a coalition primarily composed of Iran-backed Shiite parties and a rival to al-Sadr’s bloc, backed the legislation.

Observers said the Coordination Framework is expected to gain significantly from the provincial elections, especially as al-Sadr’s followers are boycotting them.

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