Expat Iraqis reluctant to vote

Less than 25% of eligible Iraqi expatriates living in 14 countries selected as polling centres outside <ST1:COUNTRY-REGION w:st="on"><ST1:PLACE w:st="on">Iraq </ST1:PLACE></ST1:COUNTRY-REGION>have registered to vote in Sunday's elections.

    Less than a quarter of expatriate Iraqis have registered to vote

    The body handling voter registration outside Iraq says 1.2 million Iraqi expatriates are eligible to vote in the 14 selected countries, but only 280,303 have signed up for the ballot.


    The Geneva-based International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said those who registered include Iraqis travelling from abroad to register in one of the 14 countries.


    "We do not have a breakdown of figures of people who have travelled from elsewhere to register. We just have figures for the actual number of people who have registered," Monique De Groot, spokesperson for the IOM's out of country voting programme said.


    "But more than a quarter of a million registered to vote, that is quite a lot, so we are very satisfied by the number of people that have shown an interest.


    Low registration has been put
    down to poor campaigning

    "You also have to remember that it is a democratic process and it is up to the individual whether they wish to participate or not," Groot said.


    Registration began on Monday in the countries with the largest Iraqi expatriate communities - Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.


    Syria tops the list with an estimated 250,000 eligible Iraqi voters; the US with at least 200,000; Jordan with 180,000 and Britain with 150,000.


    Documentation problems


    Low registration in some countries had been due to documentation issues. Turkey had demanded that Iraqis present permanent residence papers and some Iraqis are without such documents.


    To register, Iraqis have to document their identity, Iraqi nationality and birth on or before 31 December 1986.


    "I don't want to vote and swing the results possibly away from what may be best for Iraqis still living there"

    Mais Karim, statistician and
    Iraqi expatriate in London

    Kassim Abood, head of the Iraqi Rights Council in Australia said: "A lot of people have not registered to vote in Australia, as many of them are on temporary visas and there are rumours that if they participate in the elections the Australian government will deport them. These rumours are untrue."


    Nabby Yono, 54, president of the American Iraqi Trade Group based in Detroit will be voting in Sunday's elections. He thinks one reason for low voter turn out is due to the logistical location of the voting centres.


    He said: "In America just over 25,000 people voted out of a potential 230,000. I think the poor turnout is because the balloting stations are not located where the bulk of Iraqi communities are living.


    "In California the station is based in Los Angeles, but most Iraqis live in San Diego, San Francisco and North California.

    People don't have time to travel four to six hours to register then make another four- to six-hour return trip a few days later to actually cast their vote."


    In Britain out of the 150,000 eligible voters less than a quarter - 30,961 - registered to vote.


    Uninformed decision


    Mais Karim, a 27-year-old statistician in London, said: "I didn't register to vote because as Iraqis living abroad I don't think we have been exposed to enough information regarding the different parties and candidates, so I don't feel I can make an informed decision.


    "I think my vote will make a difference, and I am grateful that I have the right to vote for Iraq's future"

    Arkan Adnani, IT manager and

    Iraqi expatriate in London

    "Also, as I no longer live in Iraq I don't think I have a right to vote for change in the country. I think Iraqis living in the country have a far greater right to choose what is best for them and how the country is run. I don't want to vote and swing the results possibly away from what may be best for Iraqis still living there."


    Amir Denha, 61, a newspaper publisher based in Detroit, has abstained from registering for similar reasons.


    He said: "I see myself as an American now. I left Iraq more than 40 years ago. I voted in the US elections, but I don't see why I should vote in the Iraqi elections. I wasn't there for the wars or the sanctions. Now is a chance for the Iraqi people living there to vote for themselves."


    Bassam Aldhahir left Iraq in 1992 because of the hardships involved with living in the country under sanctions.


    He said: "Before the 1991 war, things were much better, after the sanctions things got more difficult in Iraq. But still Iraq under sanctions was better than Iraq occupied by US forces. OK, we lacked human rights, but in terms of security and services to the people, the system worked."


    The 27-year-old pharmacist from London echoed some of Karim's sentiments. He said: "I haven't registered to vote as I feel all the names on the list have had no correspondence with the real world.


    "They are literally just 200 odd names on a list. How can I vote blindly? I have heard nothing of these people, who they are or what their policies are."


    The IOM's De Groot explained: "Given the circumstances such as security issues in the country, it has been incredibly difficult for anyone to do any campaigning inside or outside the country."


    UN presence


    Aldhahir said he would vote if the elections had UN observers present. 


    "I am pro-democracy, I want the Iraqi people to be able to vote for who they would like to see in power, but not like this, not under a military power controlling the country"

    Ali Khalil, journalist and
    Iraqi expatriate in 


    "I want a visible UN presence. How do we know that the elections are free and fair? Personally I think it is just a scam to appease the Iraqi people. They are not democratic elections.


    "Could you see a hardcore Islamic leader winning the elections? That would never happen because the US wants a Western government.


    "I would like to see someone win the elections who has lived in Iraq, lived through the crisis, and who actually represents the Iraqi people. Not someone who has disappeared for 15 years, who has no idea what the people have been through and comes back using Western principles.


    "Iraq is not a Western country, it is a Muslim country and should be governed so. You can't push Western ideas of democracy on to a Muslim country," he said.


    Ali Khalil, a 28-year-old journalist from Amman, Jordan, is reluctant to vote for similar reasons.


    He said: "I haven't registered to vote as I don't believe in these elections. I think it is all staged to serve the purpose of the occupation.


    "I am pro-democracy, I want the Iraqi people to be able to vote for who they would like to see in power, but not like this, not under a military power controlling the country.


    "Although the IOM puts the number of eligible Iraqis at 180,000, I think there are many more, perhaps close to 300,000 and out of this there are only 20,166 Iraqis registered to vote. That shows how many people have faith in these elections."


    Right to vote


    In Canada, 10,957 Iraqis have registered to vote out of a potential 25,471 eligible voters. 


    About 14 million people are
    set to vote in Iraq on Sunday


    Sameer al-Abdul Wahid, a 23-year-old chemistry student there, did not register to vote as there was no registering station in his town.


    He said if there were he would like to have used his right to vote to make a difference in Iraq.


    Although most expatriate Iraqis have their own reasons for abstaining from registering, there are still more than a quarter of a million Iraqis around the world who will be casting their vote on Sunday.


    Arkan Adnani a 29-year-old IT manager working in London said he sees voting as a duty and an obligation for every Iraqi. His family was deported from Iraq in 1984 because of their political alliances.


    He said: "I think my vote will make a difference, and I am grateful that I have the right to vote for Iraq's future.


    "I will probably vote for the Unified Iraqi Alliance, but I may vote for Iyad Allawi's party. I think either will make a positive change in the country and it is a step in the right direction, working towards a freer and safer Iraq."


    Inside Iraq, 14 million people are eligible to cast ballots at 5220 polling centres across the country on Sunday, choosing a 275-member National Assembly and provincial legislatures.


    The National Assembly is to then appoint a new government.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera



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