Iraqis registering to vote in Baghdad
Iraq’s parliament finally passed a new provincial election law today, September 24, 2008. The thorny issue of Kirkuk that was at the center of the dispute over the vetoed election law in July was put off. A special committee is to be formed of all the major groups in the city made up of two Arabs, two Kurds, two Turkomen and one Christian. The group is to come up with some solutions to the city’s divided population and rule, and submit them to parliament by March 31, 2009. Afterwards, a separate vote is to be held there. The law also maintains the open list of the original election bill that allows voters to pick individuals instead of parties on the ballot, 25% of all provincial council seats need to go to women, it bans the use of religious figures on campaign material, and there are some limits on mosques being used. A quota for minorities to be represented on the councils was also discussed, but that too is to be sent to a committee for future consideration. The United Nations special representative Staffan de Mistura was greatly responsible for the series of compromises that allowed the law to pass.
Oddly enough, though the Kurds were the major roadblock to passing the original election law during the summer, and were the main group that needed to be appeased to approve the new one, Kurdistan will not be holding elections. The Kurds say elections are an issue for the Kurdish Assembly to legislate. The Kurds were mostly involved in the debate to protect their interests in Kirkuk, which they have de facto rule over, and wish to annex in the future. With that now done, they were a willing partner to the passage of the bill.
The final step is for it to be passed by the Presidential Council. That was where Kurdish Vice President Jalal Talabani and Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi vetoed the original law in July. This time it is expected to pass. That means the actual election will probably happen sometime in early 2009.
Now that arduous process is over, the government needs to move forward with actually registering voters. As reported earlier, in July 2008 563 voter centers were set up across Iraq. The Election Commission gave Iraqis 30 days to sign up, but too few showed up, and the deadline was extended several times. As of the end of August, only 2.9 million new voters out of a possible 17 million registered. Of the 2.7 million internally displaced Iraqis, only 100,000 have signed up. Those that voted in the 2005 elections don’t have to re-register as long as they haven’t moved. Over eight million voted then, but since then around five million Iraqis have fled their homes for other parts of the country or to foreign lands. On the positive side, of the 2.9 million newly registered, 1.8 million are Sunnis, who boycotted the first election in 2005 and are therefore grossly underrepresented in Iraq’s provincial councils.
The Election Commission looked at the registration process as a measure of how much the public was looking forward to the vote. They have been disappointed with the low numbers. Several reasons have been given for the apparent apathy. One is that many Iraqis are more interested in finding jobs and getting basic necessities such as water, gas, fuel, and electricity than the elections. Many simply don’t believe voting will change their situation. There have also been reports that the security forces have been intimidating followers of Moqtada al-Sadr in areas such as Sadr City in Baghdad. Neither is good for a country that is attempting to move towards democracy.
For more on the election process and voter registration see:
Provincial Election Update
Abouzeid, Rania, “Growing Apathy Toward Iraqi Elections,” Time, 9/5/08
al-Ansary, Khalid, “Iraq election law must pass mid-Sept for 2008 vote,” Reuters, 8/30/08
Chon, Gina and Naji, Zaineb, “Iraq Drive for Voters Lags,” Wall Street Journal, 9/18/08
Goode, Erica, “Iraq Passes Provincial Elections Law,” New York Times, 9/25/08
Levinson, Charles, “Misconduct seen at Baghdad voting centers,” USA Today, 8/14/08
Lynch, Marc, “definite maybe,” Abu Aardvark Blog, 9/24/08
Missing Links Blog, “Suggested scapegoats for poor voter-registration,” 8/23/08
Visser, Reidar, “After Compromise on Kirkuk, Finally an Election Law for Iraq’s Governorates,” Historiae.org, 9/24/08
Voices of Iraq, “IHEC opens 563 voter registration update centers – UNAMI,” 7/15/08