Braving the daily bombings that have scattered his 12 grandsons across Europe, Jawad Said Kamal al-Din, 91, hobbled to a Baghdad polling station on Wednesday to vote for “change”.
At a VIP polling station in the capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone, where reporters and photographers far outnumbered voters, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki proclaimed “certain” victory as he cast his ballot.
But at the west Baghdad primary school where Kamal al-Din cast his vote, he and others queueing were adamant they wanted change after eight years of Maliki’s rule.
They accused the premier of doing little to improve public services, curb rampant corruption or tackle the country’s worst violence in years.
The threat of car bombs prompted authorities to impose a polling day ban on all vehicle traffic in and around the capital, forcing voters to walk to the polls.
On the streets around the improvised polling station where Kamal al-Din was helped in by staff, the only vehicles belonged to the police or army.
The pensioner said he hoped to see an entirely new government elected to address the multiple problems that have scattered his grandsons cross Austria, Britain, Germany and Sweden.
“I hope that Iraq has a safe future, and that unemployment is tackled, and industry, agriculture and trade return to their original stature, instead of just relying on oil,” Kamal al-Din said.
“I hope to change all the current politicians, especially members of parliament, because they are thieves and are looting the country’s money.”
– ‘Real democracy’ –
In the main southern city of Basra, civil servant Adel Salim Khudayr, 52, said he wanted Wednesday to be “a day of change, so there will not be any dictatorship to govern Iraq”.
“We want a real democracy, not a democracy of religious parties. We do not want to elect any candidate from the previous parliament.”
But some of those heading to the polls on Wednesday were keen to see the Shiite prime minister win a third term.
“If we are not coming to vote, who is going to come (to power)?” asked Umm Jabbar, who had queued outside a polling station in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf since 6:00 am.
“Will the enemy come? I am voting for Maliki, because he is a thorn in the eyes of the enemy,” said the woman in her eighties, quoting an Arabic proverb.
Maliki has touted himself as a bulwark against jihadists he says are infiltrating Iraq from war-torn neighbour Syria with support from Gulf Arab states, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other groups have controlled the town of Fallujah, a short drive west of Baghdad, since the start of the year, raising fears of even greater violence around the capital.
At the Rasheed Hotel, where Maliki and other politicians cast their votes under the gaze of the media, former government security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie was adamant the election was a blow to the militants.
“I think each and every finger will be dipped in ink today, millions and millions of Iraqis will vote,” he said, referring to the indelible purple ink used to show who has already voted.
“Each finger is like a bullet in the heart of” militant groups.
But Maria Tobya Yusuf, a member of Baghdad’s dwindling Christian minority who was voting at a polling station in the west of the city, insisted it was time to replace Iraq’s whole political class.
“I hope to change and advance the situation of the country. Mainly the security situation, which is the main reason that brought us to vote,” she said.
“All the politicians need to be changed.”