Iraqis began voting in the first parliamentary election on Saturday since defeating Daesh (Islamic State), but few people expect its new leaders to deliver the stability and economic prosperity that have long been promised.
The oil producer has struggled to find a formula for stability since a U.S.-led invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, and many Iraqis have lost faith in their politicians.
Whoever the new parliament chooses as prime minister will face an array of challenges after a three-year war against Islamic State which cost the country about $100 billion.
Much of the northern city of Mosul was reduced to rubble in fighting to oust Islamic State, and it will require billions of dollars to rebuild. The economy is stagnant.
Sectarian tensions, which erupted into civil war in 2006-2007, are still a major security threat. And Iraq’s two main backers, Washington and Tehran, are at loggerheads.
The three main ethnic and religious groups — the majority Shi’ite Arabs and the Sunni Arabs and Kurds — have been at odds for decades, and the sectarian divisions remain as deep as ever.
Reuter’s reporters saw polling stations open in Baghdad and other cities.
“I will participate but I will mark an ‘X’ on my ballot. There is no security, no jobs, no services. Candidates are just looking to line up their pockets, not to help people,” said Jamal Mowasawi, a 61-year-old butcher.
Abadi is considered by analysts to be marginally ahead, but victory is far from certain for the man who raised hopes that he could forge unity when he came to office.
But while he reached out to minority Sunnis he alienated Kurds after crushing their bid for independence.
He improved his standing with the victory against Daesh, which had occupied a third of Iraq.
But Abadi lacks charisma and has failed to improve the economy and tackle corruption. He also cannot rely solely on votes from his community as the Shi’ite voter base is unusually split this year. Instead, he is looking to draw support from other groups.
Even if Abadi’s Victory Alliance list wins the most seats, he still has to negotiate the formation of a coalition government, which must be concluded within 90 days of the election.
The post of prime minister has been reserved for a Shi’ite, the speaker is a Sunni, and the ceremonial presidency has gone to a Kurd - all three chosen by parliament.
More than 7,000 candidates in 18 provinces, or governorates, are running this year for 329 parliamentary seats.