AFP- Campaigning for Iraq’s 30 April general election opened on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki bidding for a third term as his government grapples with the country’s worst bloodshed in years.
Posters went up around Baghdad and across the country as candidates vie for one of 328 parliamentary seats.
No single party is expected to win an absolute majority and previous elections have seen lengthy periods of government formation.
Though not officially confirmed, the vote appears unlikely to take place throughout parts of the western desert province of Anbar, which has been wracked by violence since the beginning of the year, with militants holding control of an entire town on Baghdad’s doorstep.
Iraqi voters have a laundry list of complaints, ranging from lengthy power cuts and poor running water and sewerage to rampant corruption and high levels of unemployment, to say nothing of near-daily attacks that have killed more than 2,200 people this year.
But elections in Iraq are rarely fought over political issues, with parties instead appealing to voters along sectarian, ethnic or tribal lines.
Among the posters already erected, for example, are those that depict tribes voicing their pride over one of their members running for parliament, while others attempt to link would-be lawmakers with political leaders such as Maliki.
“We started putting up our posters in crowded areas of Baghdad, and in places we know many people live and pass through,” said Munaf Al-Haidari, running in the election for a breakaway offshoot of the premier’s party.
“We have divided Baghdad into different areas, and we are targeting the areas where we have the most supporters,” Haidari said.
Maliki’s State of Law Alliance is widely seen as the front-runner to secure the largest single number of seats in the polls, Iraq’s first since March 2010.
But the bloc will encounter stiff competition in its traditional Shi’a-dominated heartland of south Iraq from the Citizens list, a formerly powerful group seen as close to Iran, and the Ahrar party that was until recently linked to Shi’a cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr.
In the Sunni-majority west and north, a variety of Sunni blocs are expected to compete for votes including those led by Iraq’s parliament speaker and a deputy prime minister respectively.
And in the autonomous northern Kurdish region, a historic duopoly could be further dented by a relatively new political party that has made inroads in recent polls.
Despite optimism the polls could break a long-standing political deadlock in the fractious national unity government, many voters have expressed cynicism and expect little to change.
“There are new faces, but these are the same old blocs,” said Mazin Rumayadh, a 26-year-old employee of a Baghdad-based food wholesaler.
“There is no need for them to fill the streets with posters – they are only making the streets dirty and causing traffic jams.”
The elections come with violence in Iraq at its highest level since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal sectarian war that left tens of thousands dead.
Analysts and diplomats have voiced fears that militants could try to further up the pace of attacks in a bid to derail the elections.
Sunni militants, who regard the Shi’a-led government as illegitimate and allied with Iran, are often blamed for violence in Iraq.
The elections were briefly thrown into disarray by the mass resignation of the election commission, which blamed political and judicial interference, but the resignations were withdrawn within a week.