Iraq’s IHEC takes extensive measures to fight fraud, including imprisonment

24-09-2021 02:37
Taking a fingerprint from a voter in Sulaimaniyah in the 2018 Iraqi parliamentary election. Photo; Peregraf.

PEREGRAF - Farman Sadiq in Erbil

Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) has taken extensive measures for this year’s early October 10 voting to prevent fraudulence, including punishment by imprisonment and fining for those who do so.

But however extensive these measures may be, they are unable to minimize the public skepticism of a citizen like Abdulsalam Mohammed, who says he has seen enough elections not to doubt, but be certain fraud will be committed.

"An election in Iraq with no fraud sounds like a fairytale," Mohammed, a worker from Erbil, told PEREGRAF satirically. On top of that, he believes that voting will not change livelihoods, and the many election promises made will not be fulfilled.

"There is talk among people and it is a public opinion that the parliamentary seats are already divided [among parties], what is being done is giving back legitimacy to these parties," said Mohammed.

The IHEC has taken up to five measures to prevent the anticipated fraud, spokesperson Jumana Al-Ghalay said.

In light of the new election law, the IHEC is run by a number of judges, whose first experiences with elections will be on October 10.

"One way to prevent fraud is to have all voter information recorded and have 450 voters for each [voting] device, whose names are only on that device and not on any other device, so the same person cannot vote at other stations again," Ghalay told PEREGRAF.

The spokesperson says another way is to match the fingerprints of voters after they vote, by relying on the fingerprint already taken from them and is available on the device. They will be either counted or canceled, depending on whether it matches or not.

Ghalay added voter cards will be taken away from voters once they have voted and will be given a receipt in return, to prevent them from being re-used. Biometry cards will also have images and fingerprints of the voter.

Quality voting machines and counting votes are another way to prevent fraud. "The devices are very developed, they are tested and commission employees are trained on them," said the spokesperson.

According to Iraq’s parliamentary election law, anyone who tries to vote instead of someone else will be punished by imprisonment for not less than six months and will be fined between 250,000 to one million dinars.

"All those who commit fraud will be brought to a special court, and all these methods and procedures are an attempt to prevent fraud and violations," Ghalay noted.

The commission's intensive measures come after protests during the 2018 Iraqi parliamentary election, in which many parties and monitors insisted on committed fraud and violations, particularly on the electronic voting devices and voter recounts.

In a report to the International Security Council, the UN envoy to Iraq confirmed the commitment of election fraud and but the process was silenced by manually recounting the majority of the votes without any major changes.

According to reports by Tammuz Organization for Social Development, there were dozens of violations during the 2018 elections, the most notable being malfunction of an electronic voting device and preventing monitors’ presence during vote counts and separation.

Shams Network for Election Monitoring also recorded 575 different violations during the previous concerning security, lack of commission staff knowledge on the electronic voting system, and the malfunction of electronic devices.

Hogr Chato, head of the network said it is too early to rely on the commission's measures to decide whether a clean election will be held or not.

"We cannot make a final decision until the elections are held, but what has happened in the past few days including speeches by the UN envoy is an attempt to reassure the public that a clean election will be held and fraud will not be allowed," he told PEREGRAF.

More than 3,200 candidates will win 329 seats independently or within the dozens of parties and coalitions in 2021.

"The commission's procedures are good on paper, but it may not play out like this on the day of the election," said Chato, who believes there are still possibilities of fraud.

According to Chato, buying votes, armed forces, participation of people and fraud are the difficult challenges facing elections. Despite the commission's efforts, there are parties trying to find loopholes to commit fraud.

Since 2005 when the first parliamentary elections were held there hasn’t been a time where parties have not complained about the results, in Iraq and specifically in the Kurdistan Region, these accusations were mostly from the opposition against the ruling parties in recent years.

Salar Suleiman Abdullah, a consultant lawyer, believes it is very difficult to commit fraud in the process, but what remains is the separation of the votes at Baghdad’s main center. "Political agreements between political parties affect fraud through the commission's administrators."

"The problem is at the centers where they separate and count the votes," he said. "If the political parties make agreements there, they can manipulate the number of votes," Abdullah told PEREGRAF.

Jeanine Plasschaert, the special UN representative to Iraq, assured Iraqi voters at a press conference earlier this month that 130 observers will constantly monitor the election and would make every effort to prevent fraud.

The United Nations has started monitoring and consulting in most of the commission's offices, the latest of which was expressing readiness to burn millions of old voting ballots in Baghdad so that they will not be used again.

Aram Jamal, an election expert at the Kurdish Institute for Elections (KIE), an election monitoring NGO in the Kurdistan Region explained that the Electoral Commission burned 4.6 million ballots.

"Those were the ones that were created in the 2014 election, and in the past few days there have been rumors of buying and selling them, so the commission has decided to burn them, now the ballots are dismissed and cannot be voted on," he told PEREGRAF.

In addition to international monitors, thousands of local observers and hundreds of journalists and media are eyeing the election process, in which Iraq is divided into 83 constituents.

"Electronic devices have been installed to contain the entire voter information in the station where voters cast their ballots, and voter information is recorded on paper as well, so each voter, if he doesn't have a biometric, or nationality and identity [cards], they can't vote," said Jamal, who praised the commission’s measures to fight fraud.

Earlier this September, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi's office issued a statement saying that security forces were able to thwart a fraud plan for the upcoming elections in an operation under direct court supervision.

The attempt was aimed at pressuring commission employees to create chaos, in which a group of people was involved. It was later revealed in investigations it was linked to a number of officials, including current and previous parliamentarians, the statement said.

Voting machines and ballot boxes were seized, and a number of those accused of fraud were arrested and were to be taken to court.

Out of more than 40 million Iraqis, about 25 million are eligible to vote, more than half of those are issued biometric cards, but some of them have not yet received it, which is the main condition for participating in the elections and preventing fraud.