photo: Eddy van Wessel


Friday, September 20, 2013

Freedom to vote

What is the fun of waving a flag from a car window? Or dancing in front of the PUK headquarters in Salim Street in Sulaymaniya? Or driving up and down the street with the car stereo as loud as possible?

What is the use of all those thousands of flags waving their colours all through the city? Green next to blue, yellow, orange or brown and sometimes even wrapped up together by the wind?

Kurdistan is electing a new parliament, and that is all people want to think about. Every evening, hooting cars with people waving flags dominate the cities.

Europeans watch and try to understand. Our elections are so different. We have posters too, and flags and balloons. But they convey the message of the party: against more taxes, look after the environment, better healthcare, take care of the elders, hands off our social security.

Campaigns are meant to attract people, to convince them to vote for the party. Most people in the West vote because of the principles and ideas of the party. Every party has a program that has been agreed on by its members in a special session with the party leaders.

To inform potential voters about it, politicians talk to journalists and take part in debates on radio, TV and in halls all over the country. On Saturdays, when people go shopping, those politicians are in the shopping malls, markets and streets, to explain what change their party is going to make.

What a difference to Kurdistan, where campaigns are meant to show off the love for the party, the loyalty and the unity. How can the flags make people change their minds? They won’t and they don’t. In Kurdistan you are with a party because of your family, because of the past, of the job or the income, of the car, of the house, the financial support for the old and the sick…

In my world we call this buying votes, and it is strictly forbidden. Because in a democracy, politicians have to earn their votes, by their good governance, or lose them when they have failed. That is why we can see big changes after elections, as the results force parties to make new coalitions as to form a government. Which means change.

At the same time, in my country, the civil servants stay on. The administration is the factor of continuity. While governments change, they make sure promises are kept and long term policies are continued. Civil servants are neutral, their political colour is not public, again quite different from Kurdistan.

Kurdistan has an electoral system in between democracy and socialism. It needs to consider if this is what fits the country with its tribal heritage. But the main issue is, that it should be the people who decide in the polling booth. And the vote should be free. Free, and no strings attached. Even for those who wave the flags.

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