Iraqis resort to boycotting elections when all hope is at a deadlock

05-10-2021 05:14
Voting at the Sulaimaniyah polling station for the 2018 Iraqi parliamentary elections. Photo; Peregraf.


Halwest Nariman spent 20 years of his life supporting parties and has campaigned with passion in multiple elections, but he is now passionately advocating for boycotting the Iraqi elections that is less than a week away.

"I will boycott, because I feel that elections will not change anything in this country… so the process is just fooling people again," Nariman told PEREGRAF.

Nariman’s new sentiment is subsequent to ten years with the ruling Kurdistan Patriotic Union (PUK) party of Sulaimaniyah and ten years with the Change (Gorran) party, formerly an opposition movement.

He says after the death of Nawshirwan Mustafa, leader of the movement, and the requisition of the party’s "finances and media" when his sons took ownership he "completely withdrew from political work."

Nariman says the party "fooled us" after many years of service and adds that led him to boycott the October 10 elections.

Iraq has a population of more than 40 million, of which over 25 million are eligible to vote for the upcoming elections, but only 17 million - less than 70 percent - have renewed registrations for the process, according to official statistics published by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) of Iraq.

Out of the 17 million eligible, over 14 million have received their new voting biometric cards - others haven’t, partly due to boycotts and lack of hope in the election. Meaning more than half of Iraq’s voters are ready to vote.

Jalil Adnan Khalaf, Chairman of IHEC’s Board of Commissioners in September encouraged people to receive their biometric cards by promising a "financial reward" to those who get their cards back.

On the same day, the Prime Minister of Iraq urged people to hurry up with receiving voting cards for the sake of their future and their children’s.

"Your vote is a legacy don’t let it go to waste. Those who make efforts to reform and change should participate in the elections," Mustafa al-Kadhimi said in a tweet. "Your votes are the future of Iraq."

Boycott has been running stronger throughout each election after 2003, and it is expected to remain that way in this year’s early elections scheduled for October 10, less than a week away.

The lowest voter turnout was recorded in Iraq’s post-2003 history in the May 2018 parliamentary elections, with only 44.5 percent participating. In the 2014 elections, voter turnout was 60 percent. In 2010, turnout was 62.4 percent and 79 percent in 2005.

The Kurdistan Region’s parliamentary elections likewise went from 73 percent in 2013 to 59.8 percent in 2018.

Nariman says one of the reasons people boycott, at least for himself, is the "lack of loyalty" of the Kurdish representatives who are once secure their seats will rid themselves of public service and "think of only of their pockets and making themselves rich."

"We fully believe, with my family and extended family, that the only way to Iraqi elections is the boycott," he said hopelessly.

A senior official from IHEC speaking to PEREGRAF on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said only large-scale boycott from parties and coalitions will be effective, "the boycott of citizens will not affect the election process."

However, Kurdish politicians believe boycotting elections will put the Kurdish position in Baghdad at "risk."

Qubad Talabani, Deputy Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Region and the leader of the PUK-Gorran alliance called the Kurdistan Coalition, described the boycott as a "major threat", saying "boycotting is dangerous and weakens Kurds' position in Baghdad" and the "scattering of votes" puts those new in the process at risk.

Talabani's remarks were at a meeting with a number of journalists in Sulaimaniyah on September 25, also attended by PEREGRAF. Talabani believes the Kurdistan Region will be put under massive pressure from Baghdad and neighboring countries after the elections.

"If we are not strong and united and go to Baghdad disorganized, we may not be able to prevent these pressures, especially when there are intentions to amend the Iraqi constitution, and limit the Region’s power and finances in parliament with law. Unfortunately, some Kurdish personnel also support them in hatred of the PUK and KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party]," he said.

In addition to those who do not have biometric cards, a number of Iraqi voters are not at all registered nor have the older voting IDs. There are also thousands of voters called "grey voters," who are undecided about participating in the elections or which candidate to vote for.

Majid Mohammed, 50, has voted for the Kurdish parties in Kirkuk in all the previous elections, but has now lost hope for a "Kurdish power" and decided to boycott.

"We have been promised a lot and it hadn’t been fulfilled," Mohammed said, reiterating that his family will also not participate in the elections because they believe nothing in their livelihoods and situation will change.

"In the last election, we were collecting votes door to door for the Kurdish parties, but what did they do?" he asked. "They abandoned us, and now that they have left, they cannot lead Kurdistan or pay the salaries of employees," he added.

According to the latest survey by the Kurdistan Platform for National Issues, in which more than 4,000 people from Erbil, Sulaimaniyah, Duhok, Kirkuk and Halabja provinces participated, 18 percent are not willing to vote and about 18 percent want to neutralize their votes.

"At this stage, we will boycott and not vote for any party. I don't know how it will play out in the future, but we are disappointed in the overall politics of Iraq, because money and power rule not voting," Mohammed said.

According to official statistics published by IHEC, there are 1.2 million voters in Erbil province, of which more than 577,500 have received biometric cards.

Also, of the 1.4 million voters in Sulaimaniyah, about 843,000 have received biometric cards, and in Duhok province, where there are more than 822,700 voters, more than 520,700 have received their biometric cards.

"Boycott is expected in this election which has nothing to do with the present, but it is related to previous elections where promises have not been fulfilled," Aram Jamal, director of the Kurdish Institute for Elections told PEREGRAF.

He explained that there are many reasons why people boycott, and that there are some people who do not work in the public sector, their understanding and believes don’t overreach that of their families, so they will not participate.

"People who boycott are mostly those that have become hopeless, even among Iraqi demonstrators who have sacrificed, but the excuses and justifications for boycotting may differ from those in the Region," Jamal noted.

"Iraq is talking about eliminating party and sectarian militias, but in the region, according to our investigations in cities and towns, the reason for boycott is disappointment in the country’s political elite," he explained.

Other reasons for boycott include lack of trust in the commission, fraud, corruption and the lack of solid projects by the opposition.

The election law allows those with no biometric card to cast their ballots with the old election IDs, known as electronic identities, as well as national IDs, but some measures have been taken to prevent fraud.

"If there was an extensive boycotting, the public and democratic legitimacy of elections will be reduced, because it is different when a representative wins by securing 100,000 votes or by 10,000 votes. But it will still have legal legitimacy, even if boycott is extensive the seats will still be filled," Jamal said.

Therefore, he called on citizens to participate in elections and vote, because those who boycott have no better alternative than elections.