Secularist underdogs fight to be heard in Iraq’s national election

April 30, 2014
(A fully-veiled woman walks after marking her ballot at a polling booth during a parliamentary election in Baghdad April 30, 2014. Iraqis headed to the polls on Wednesday in their first national election since U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki seeking a third term amid rising violence. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani )

(A fully-veiled woman walks after marking her ballot at a polling booth during a parliamentary election in Baghdad April 30, 2014.REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani )

“I am Iraqi, so do I exist?” is the question posed on the Civil Democratic Alliance’s Facebook page.

The coalition of 10 liberal and secular parties aims to be an alternative to the communal politics defining Wednesday’s national vote, aimed at people who feel so marginalised by Iraq’s politics that they are hardly counted.

In an electoral race filled with old faces and vitriolic hatred, the underdog list hints at a way forward that has appeal for those wishing to move beyond the sectarian fears colouring Iraqi politics.

There are no reliable polls ahead of Wednesday’s election, but the group hopes that by uniting likeminded small parties it can at least win some seats in the 328-member house and secure a voice for Iraqis whose views were previously ignored.

The country is at war, with the Iraqi military and militias battling Sunni extremists in areas surrounding Baghdad. Its most senior politicians – even the few high profile secularists such as Iyad Allawi, a former prime minister – are defined by their past struggles and political feuds.

The Civil Democratic Alliance which groups independents and smaller parties has struggled to be seen amid the giant city posters of officials in the current government, women candidates in full hijab, others pancaked in Technicolor makeup, and powerful militia members clad in camouflage who fight in Syria.

The glossy billboards testify to the big money necessary for campaigns in Iraq, with politicians whispering of their rivals’ financiers and slush funds.

One Islamist candidate estimated to Reuters the cost of his parliamentary bid at over a million dollars. The lavish sums testify to how entrenched Iraq’s ruling parties are 11 years after the U.S. invasion ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

The Civil Democratic Alliance’s members say they can’t afford to buy time on satellite news channels or pay for thousands of billboards.

Read the full story by Isra’al Rubei’i and Ned Parker here.

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