IT’S been fascinating to be back on the globetrotting beat as a roving correspondent these past weeks. Readers of my previous column for The National might have noticed that my last port of call was the Balkans, where I revisited the countries of the former Yugoslavia, 30 years on from the wars that tore the nation apart.

Right now I’m back in Iraq, during a week in which the country faces a general election that will not be without considerable controversy and the potential for violence.

Just to emphasise the degree of concern over security during the poll, it was announced a few days ago that Iraqi airspace will be closed and travel across the country restricted during the run up to and immediately after the vote.

One of the most interesting things about watching such politics unfold in other countries – especially those previously troubled, such as the former Yugoslavia and still volatile Iraq – is the way in which it re-calibrates one’s own perspective of politics back home in the UK.

In the Balkans, I found myself pondering over what nationalism and a desire for independence could mean for those nations – whose political journey in such a direction becomes inextricably caught up in a toxic mix of suspicion, intolerance, ethnic hatred and bloodshed.

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If politics is about anything, then it’s certainly in part about learning from the mistakes of others. The turbulent recent history of the former Yugoslavia is just one example of how easy it is to let destructive politics in the back door.

In turn, while in Iraq these past few days, I’ve also been reminded of what happens to an electorate that feels a profound sense of disconnect and mounting frustration with their political leaders and their seeming inability to enact a real sense of change for the good.

That Iraq’s political leaders are acutely aware of their fellow citizens’ growing impatience can be gauged by the fact that Sunday’s ballot comes far earlier than planned, a full nine months before the current parliament’s term officially expires the following July.

It comes in response also to the central demands from the mass protest movement and violent demonstrations that swept across the capital Baghdad and Iraq’s southern region in 2019.

After talking office in May 2020 and the collapse of the previous government, Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi promised to hold an early vote and reform of the country’s electoral law.

His government too has taken action to limit election fraud, increase voter security during the elections and implemented tactics to push for higher voter turnout. But still the feeling here is one of profound disillusionment, meaning that many Iraqis are almost certain to boycott the ballot.

In fact, if recent polls are anything to go by, then turnout will be substantially lower than the 44% in the 2018 parliamentary election, although there is also the chance that Iraq’s Electoral Commission may change the way it measures turnout, which could lead to false assertions of a rise in electoral participation.

In a nutshell, it’s a fair bet that the next government is likely to remain unable or unwilling to address the endemic corruption among the governing elite and other grievances that have fuelled past unrest, meaning the likelihood of another spasm of protests is almost certainly looming on the horizon.

Let’s not forget that Iraq has only recently emerged out of almost two decades of violence and conflict, from the 2003 US-led invasion, to the fight against the jihadist Daesh group that still lurks menacingly in parts of the country.

Having navigated years of conflict and inadequate governance, many Iraqis have lost hope for the betterment of their country through the action of the governing class.

That said though, this is a country with a demographically young population – citizens unlikely to roll over into political atrophy. Speaking to young Iraqis – yes, there is a real sense of frustration with the old guard, not to mention the malign influence which the neighbouring Iran brings to the country’s politics, and in turn, their lives. But one senses too a real determination to break the shackles which next door Tehran imposes, and a burning desire to see a better future.

Iraq might seem an unlikely comparison to draw with politics back home in Scotland and the UK, but there is something inspirational in this dogged sense of working to make things better and ridding the political landscape of those selfishly mercenary politicians and leaders happy to pull the ladder up behind themselves.

All of us, even the most committed of political activists experience at times frustration and dismay at how those in the corridors of power conduct themselves. It’s perhaps then worth consoling ourselves sometimes with the knowledge and understanding that such feelings are almost universal, albeit manifesting themselves in myriad ways in different places.

If being back on the globetrotting political beat as journalist reminds me of anything, it’s of the unquenchable desire ordinary folk have to put the dark past behind them and strike out for a better future.

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Here in Iraq as the country goes to the polls, no one is under any illusion that the post-election scenario will be tricky and potentially volatile. But the mass protest movement of two years ago, still inhabited largely by a younger generation, has set out on a journey from which there is no turning back if their hopes and aspirations for a better future are to be realised.

The fact that where once was a riven Yugoslavia is now a series of neighbouring independent states that sit peacefully cheek by jowl alongside each other, and beleaguered young Iraqis remain unbowed by the political lot they have been given is all testimony to the capacity of our fellow global citizens to move on.

That’s not to say that immense challenges and sometimes tensions do not continue in these places as they do elsewhere, but journeying between the Balkans and Iraq this past month has allowed me to put the politics of home in Scotland and the wider UK back into some kind of proper perspective.

It’s such a wonderful reminder too of how unstoppable people power is in the search for something better.