Iraq’s 2010 parliamentary elections officially opened on March 4. That was when special balloting took place. 459 voting centers were opened, with 1,742 polling stations. 850,000 Iraqis were eligible to cast their ballots including in 16 foreign countries, such as Syria, Jordan, Sweden, the United States, Iran, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Canada, Austria, Egypt, and England. The main participants were members of the security forces, prisoners, and hospital patients within Iraq. Although there were reports that turnout was good, the Iraqi Election Commission’s early returns showed that only 59% participated. In Irbil province, turnout was at 86.6%, reflecting the historically high voting rate amongst Kurds since they held their first elections in 1992. In contrast, in the Netherlands only 6.6%, around 2,000 of 30,000 possible voters showed up. There is a chance that turnout will be low this year, as there is increasing cynicism amongst Iraqis because parliament has been deadlocked on major legislation, politicians and the bureaucracy are seen as corrupt, and the local and central government have failed to improve on basic services despite the improved security situation. As reported before, although Kurds continue to vote in high numbers, and Sunnis came out as well in the 2009 elections to make up for their 2005 boycott, balloting by the Shiite majority saw a decrease in the provincial elections last year.
It’s also important to remember that this year’s voting is only the most public expression of Iraq’s attempt to build a democracy. More important is that institutions and the rule of law develop so that the general public can benefit from the freedoms a democracy is supposed to provide. That will take much longer, and Iraq is struggling on that front. Iraq’s justice system for example, lacks due process, and its jails are famous for beatings, torture, overcrowding, and poor conditions. The deBaathification campaign launched by the Iraqi National Alliance and the Accountability and Justice Commission that it controlled just on the eve of balloting was another instance of the lack of rule of law as the Commission was not appointed by parliament, the charges against the banned candidates was never made public, and the court that dealt with the appeals changed its opinion due to political pressure. That doesn’t mean that Iraq cannot eventually establish a working democratic system, but that claims that it has already arrived are premature, and that it will be a long and arduous process that can see reversals, and even be cut short. Iraq’s people and government do have a chance to move in a positive direction however, which is in stark contrast to most of the countries that surround it that are governed by monarchies and autocracies.
AK News, “Iraq poll in Netherlands: turnout rate 6.6% so far,” 3/6/10
Alsumaria, “High turnout on 1st day of out-of-country vote,” 3/6/10
- “IHEC: Special voting turnout reached 59,” 3/6/10
- “Special voting begins in Iraq with participation of 600,000,” 3/4/10
Arraf, Jane, “Iraq election: Young war generation yearns for old stability,” Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/10
Aswat al-Iraq, “459 centers receive 850,000 voters in special voting – IHEC,” 3/4/10
- “Special voting in Arbil reaches 86.6% - IHEC,” 3/5/10
Dehghanpisheh, Babak, Barry, John and Dickey, Christopher, “Rebirth of a Nation,” Newsweek, 3/8/10
Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/10
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