x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Signs of election absent from campus

The colourful campaign posters jockey for space on walls and lamp posts across Baghdad, but on the campus of Mustansiriyah University the signs of Iraq's imminent election are strangely absent.

BAGHDAD // The colourful campaign posters jockey for space on walls and lamp posts across Baghdad, but on the campus of Mustansiriyah University the signs of Iraq's imminent election are strangely absent. With less than a week left before Iraqis go to the polls, campaigning is in full swing, but a ruling from the ministry of education late last year dissolved political associations at the university, and the administration at Mustansiriyah is doing its best to keep the politics of the elections out.

"All political activities should happen outside the campus," Kanan Abd ul Razzaq, the university's vice-president, said. "The university is purely for academic work and not for political activities." One of Iraq's largest universities, with a largely Shiite student body of 60,000, Mustansiriyah has been plagued by disruptions and violence as the country's sectarian divides and political tensions spilt into its halls. Hundreds of students have died in bombings on its campuses.

In October last year Nouri al Maliki, the prime minister, ordered the university closed for a week after members of the Students' League beat up a professor on campus. The group has been accused of intimidation and violence; some had insinuated that Mr al Maliki's Dawa Party had links with the student organisation and stopped it from being prosecuted. Though the Student's League and other political societies were never formally endorsed by the university, Mr Abd ul Razzaq said the problems have now been taken off campus.

Other political groups, particularly religious parties, had also added to tensions, said Mohammed Malik, 22, a geography student. "The parties were putting pressure on us so we are all for the banning. There should be independence from the political groups on campus." Students were now more free to choose whom to support, said Mr Malik, adding that there were now few instances of intimidation. Abeeda Oula, 21, an Arabic literature student, said her classes had regularly been disrupted and things would have only got worse in the lead-up to elections.

"If there was something they disagreed with, they'd come into classrooms and say there'd be no class today," she said, adding that the situation has improved since the ban. "It was a small proportion of students, but they were very vocal and influential." According to Ms Oula, the main issues for students in the elections are security and employment. She and her friends said they would all be voting for the State of Law coalition, Mr al Maliki's list, because of the improvements to the security situation, but hoped to see some "new faces" in parliament.

Despite concerns over the fairness of the poll there were few who said they would not vote on March 7. lmorris@thenational.ae