photo: Eddy van Wessel


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Eager to vote, Iraq's displaced faced obstacles on election day

Promises of jobs and support to build their homes sent many of Iraq's internally displaced in search of polling stations that would allow them to cast their vote on May 12.

Queuing to vote at one at the polling stations open for IDPs in Erbil  PHOTO JUDIT NEURINK

ERBIL - Judit Neurink

The Janabi cousins from Salahuddin province had already been waiting for five hours outside the polling station in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, where they have lived since the Islamic State (IS) took over their city in 2014. They watched the voting station open at 7 a.m. and were still there at midday because, lacking the most recent electronic voting cards, they were not allowed to vote.

According to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, Iraq still has more than 2 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been displaced since 2014, and their perceived inability to vote has led Sunni leaders to demand that the Iraqi parliamentary elections be postponed. Their request was refused and special polling stations were set up for those who fled the provinces of Ninevah, Kirkuk, Salahuddin and Anbar, both in the camps and in the cities where they have found refuge. Officials of the Independent High Electoral Commission announced that those who did not have the electronic voting card would be allowed to vote using their IDs and old voting cards, but many encountered problems on election day.

Yet while Iraq saw a historic low turnout of just over 44% and little enthusiasm for the May 12 vote, IDPs showed up in droves at the special voting stations, for instance in Erbil. The station where the Janabi cousins were refused was one of the few that ran out of ballot papers by the end of the day.
For the cousins, both in their 20s, being able to vote for their candidate was important, said Baha, leaning against a wall outside the crowded special voting station in the Mufti quarter in Erbil that welcomed IDPs like them but refused to accept their documents. “He has to give us a job,” Baha told Al-Monitor about the candidate for whom he was planning to give his vote. “He promised us, and he also promised to get us back into our homes.”

The cousins have not returned to Salahuddin yet because of the security situation; they fear the Shiite Popular Mobilization Units that currently police their area. “Our region has been liberated for two years now, but we are here and doing nothing,” Baha’s cousin Hamad complained. “We need change. That’s why we are voting for this new candidate,” he said.

Many of the men waiting at the polling station echoed the same resolve to vote for a new face instead of the political old guard that has been in power for the last 15 years. They quoted corruption, lack of jobs and security as their main failures, but they also mentioned promises of work and help rebuilding their houses as factors in their choices.

No comments: