Thursday, January 14, 2010

Voter Dissatisfaction Growing In Anbar?

There are a few scattered reports that could bode ill for the March 2010 elections in Anbar. They all involve growing discontent amongst the public about their politicians, and their inability to improve the standard of living or maintain security in the province. Those issues could lead to lower voter turnout this year.

The on-line magazine Niqash talked with the director of the Election Commission in the province who said that there is less enthusiasm this year to vote than in 2009. He said that in last year’s provincial elections candidates promised better services and jobs, but have not delivered. In response, he is launching an outreach program with local sheikhs and community leaders to talk to their constituents about voting.

A recent series of headline grabbing attacks have also lessened enthusiasm about politicians. On December 30, 2009 two suicide bombers attacked the provincial council building killing a council member, three senior security officials, and 26 others, and injuring 100 including Governor Qassim al-Fahdawi. On January 7, five bombs targeted police and other officials in Hit, wounding ten and killing eight. Conflicts between the various parties and tribes in the province have been blamed. The sheikhs in the Anbar Awakening for one have broken up into several rival factions that ran against each other in 2009 and are expected to do the same in 2010. They are endlessly accusing each other of nefarious deeds, and these differences are allowing space for insurgents to operate. These issues have garnered little confidence that the local government will be able to deal with future security incidents.

The security forces are also engrossed in controversy. The former police chief General Tariq al-Assal, who was just recently replaced after the December 30 bombings, complained that officials didn’t listen to his advice about security, that they refused to have their cars or men be searched, and that council members interfered with his work. The security forces in turn, have been criticized because almost all of them are tribal fighters with no experience or training. The recent attacks even led to 400 people demonstrating in Ramadi in early January 2010 calling for better security and to end corruption.

All of these factors together could lead to fewer voters turning out in March. In the January 2009 elections, 40% of the voting public in Anbar participated, compared to just 2% in January 2005 when there was a Sunni boycott. Now that might be threatened by the new local officials inability to deliver on their campaign promises or to prevent attacks. An even larger problem could occur if this sentiment happens across the country, as not much has changed in daily life in Iraq since the 2009 election. Last year saw a drop in voter participation already with 51% casting ballots, compared to 58% in 2005. Every province in southern Iraq saw a decrease except for Muthanna that had the same percentage as 2005, which offset the large increases in Sunni areas. Less people voting would be a blow to Iraq’s attempt to develop a democracy. Popular dissatisfaction with their politicians, can translate into less support for the government, and a return to a strong man or other forms of authoritarianism that promise to get things working at the expense of people’s freedom.

SOURCES

Arraf, Jane, “Ramadi struggles to instill a rule of law,” Christian Science Monitor, 8/21/09

Dagher, Sam, “In Anbar Province, New Leadership, but Old Problems Persist,” New York Times, 9/13/09

Fadel, Leila and Hastings, Michael, “Deadly blasts underscore tenuous security in Iraq’s Anbar province,” Washington Post, 1/8/10

Lawrence, Quil, “Violence Returns To Anbar As U.S. Steps Back,” NPR, 1/11/10

Al-Mukhtar, Uthman, “Fear Grips Anbar After Bombings,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 1/5/10

Niqash, “anbar voters more phlegmatic this time round,” 1/11/10

Shadid, Anthony, “In Anbar, U.S.-Allied Tribal Chiefs Feel Deep Sense of Abandonment,” Washington Post, 10/3/09

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