Falling Turnout Hints at Voter Disenchantment
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||17 March 2010|
|Citation / Document Symbol||ICR No. 328|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Falling Turnout Hints at Voter Disenchantment, 17 March 2010, ICR No. 328, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ba338b3c.html [accessed 6 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Politicians' broken promises blamed for significant drop in election participation.
By IWPR-trained reporters in Iraq (ICR No. 328, 17-Mar-10)Growing disillusionment with politics explained the fall in voter turnout in the recent parliamentary election, according to locals and analysts interviewed by IWPR.
Turnout in the March 7 ballot was 62 per cent, a sharp drop from the 76 per cent who voted in the December 2005 assembly poll, when Iraq's conflict was entering its bloodiest phase.
The lowest provincial turnout in 2005 - 65 per cent in Diwaniya - was still higher than this year's average nationwide figure.
Iraq is much calmer today than it was in 2005, but in the run-up to the vote, many observers had feared that the renewed threat of insurgent attack might deter voters.
Early on election day, nearly 40 people were killed in sporadic violence, mostly in Baghdad. In the bloodiest attack during the week preceding the vote, more than 30 people were killed by bombers in the restive city of Baquba, north of the capital.
However, interviews by IWPR-trained reporters nationwide have revealed that Iraqis who ignored this election did so mostly out of indifference or cynicism - not fear.
"I didn't benefit from the last election and I won't benefit from this one," said Hasan Mohammed Shaheed, a farmer from Diwaniya in southern Iraq.
"Our leaders call for change, justice and equality but they stick to the same programme, ignoring the poor," he said. "This poll is a game played by politicians and that's why I decided not to take part this time."
Aksan Mohammed, a housewife from the volatile province of Diyala, north of Baghdad, said she was tired of nepotism and of leaders who "swore at each other on the TV screen" while ignoring mounting tensions in the region.
"We see the same faces who won local elections running in the parliamentary election," she added, referring to provincial council poll last year. "Given that they were elected to the province, why do they want to leave for parliament in Baghdad? Who will take their place here - their brother or cousin?"
Jawdi Abdul Amir, an unemployed man from the Shia holy city of Najaf, said he had not voted because he had lost faith in the candidates.
"What did they achieve for the youth?" he asked. "I don't know how to feed my family. You want me to vote for those who have no mercy for me?"
Participation in the latest poll was nonetheless praised by leaders in the United States and the European Union, with foreign observers noting that the turnout - though lower than before - was still greater than in many western democracies.
Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan saw the highest turnout with 80 per cent, while in Maysan in south-east Iraq just 50 per cent cast their vote.
As the worst fighting between Sunni and Shia Arabs is now seemingly over, sectarian rivalries played a relatively secondary role in the latest election, with most voters more concerned with the need for better governance. [See: Everyday Demands Drown Out Sectarianism, ICR No. 327, 11-Mar-10]
"Citizens are losing faith in the political class," Tarek al-Maamuri, a commentator with the independent newspaper, Al-Mada, said. "The government's neglect [of public services] has fed disappointment and frustration in many provinces."
Abdul-Jabbar al-Hadithi, a political science professor at Baghdad's Mustansiriya University, said many Iraqis had given up on politicians because of their failure to improve utilities or fully stamp out violence.
"A great number of voters were angry at the government and we should not be surprised that they did not vote," he said.
The analysts agreed that protracted political feuds and unfulfilled reconstruction promises had contributed to the fall in turnout.
Another possible factor is that many interviewees said they had been unable to vote because their names were not on the voters' rolls. Experts said those displaced by sectarian violence since 2005 were more likely to find themselves excluded in this manner. The Iraqi electoral commission told IWPR it did not have any figures for people turned away from polling stations.
Widespread suspicion of fraud in previous elections may also have contributed to the lower levels of participation this year, according to Hadithi, the professor at Mustansiriya University.
"People believe the election is merely a show and there is a conspiracy being devised behind the scenes. For them, rigging and fraud are inevitable in elections," he said.
Nazdar, a woman from the northern Kurdish city of Erbil who did not want her full name revealed, said she had not voted because she felt certain the results would be manipulated.
"The elections are not transparent," she said. "It is all arranged between politicians. Believe me, even though I didn't go to vote, someone else would have voted for me, using my name."
This report was compiled by IWPR-trained reporters Ali Kareem in Baghdad, Ali Al-Mutalibi in Najaf, Ali Mohammad in Baquba, Emad al-Khuzaei in Diwaniya and Salam al-Dulaimi in Kirkuk and Nabaz Jalal in Erbil.