Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top religious authority of Iraqi Shias, called on Iraqis to participate in the October 10 parliamentary elections. In a statement released on Sistani’s personal website, the top cleric “encouraged everyone to participate consciously and responsibly in the upcoming elections.”
Al-Sistani acknowledged the lack of enthusiasm surrounding the elections as Iraqis across sectarian and ethnic divides are expected to abstain from voting. Though he described the electoral process as the only way to enact positive change in the country. “Although the election is not without its shortcomings, it remains the safest way to bring the country into a future hopefully better than the past, and through it avoids the risk of falling into the abyss of chaos and political obstruction,” his statement read.
While al-Sistani made clear that he does not favor any candidates, he called on Iraqis to elect those who are “keen on the sovereignty, security, and prosperity of Iraq,” most likely rebuking pro-Iran candidates running in the elections. Pro-Iran factions already enjoy a significant presence in the Iraqi parliament. In the event of a widespread boycott of the vote, they are expected to increase their gains.
Both Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and President Barham Salih made similar calls addressing Iraqis to go to the polls. However, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani holds more sway over the majority of the Iraqi Shia electorate. The 2018 general elections witnessed the lowest turnout rate since the 2003 US invasion of the country as al-Sistani did not urge Iraqis to participate.