Saturday, 22 June 2013

Observations on Provincial Council Elections in Mosul – 1

Observations on Provincial Council Elections in Mosul – 1
Bilgay Duman, ORSAM Middle East Specialist

The provincial council elections, which had been planned to be held in Arbil, Sulaymaniyah and Duhok within Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and in other 14 cities of Iraq in addition to Kirkuk on 20 April 2013, were held only in 12 cities; and the provincial council elections in Mosul and al-Anbar were postponed on the ground that there were security threats and lack of electoral preparations due to anti-government protests. The provincial council elections in Mosul and al-Anbar, announced to be held on 4 July 2013, were designated to be held on 20 June 2013. The Independent High Electoral Commission in Iraq (IHEC) invited 6 electoral watchdog from Turkey to Mosul to serve as international electoral watchdog in Mosul during the elections. In this article, Bilgay Duman from ORSAM shares his observations on provincial council held in Mosul. Since the article was written during the election in Mosul, it contains first observations. The election results and observations regarding the whole electoral process will be written in another article.

Sound bomb blasts started to be heard early in the morning of election day in Mosul. Because even a day at the evening hours before the elections, sounds of bomb blasts prevailed in Mosul. More than 20 blasts occurred in Mosul until 08.30 a.m. on the election day. It might be suggested that rather small-scaled stun grenades were used in order to prevent people from going to the polls. Most of the bombings took place in the 17th of July neighborhood, southwestern Mosul. The Sunni nationalism is at a high level in the 17th of July neighborhood. Besides, this neighborhood is one of the strongest epicenters of the anti-U.S. Resistance. On the other hand, the “17thof July” also means something special for Sunni Arab nationalism in Iraq. Because the Ba'ath Party in Iraq came to power on July 17th, 1968. Hence the fact that the 17th of July neighborhood symbolizes Sunni Arab nationalism is another interesting detail. The fact that more than 20 bombing occurred early in the morning of the election day, when security measures were taken, shows the insufficiency or negligence of security forces. Also, streets of Mosul turned into a ghost town. In Mosul, where driving was forbidden for four days in Mosul, people had no choice but to go to the polls on foot. However, it is by no means possible to see crowds in the streets. Furthermore, the number of security forces were more than half of those who went to the polls. Mosul turned into a state of emergency region. It might be asserted that also the people are worried about the situation. It might also be suggested that it caused to low-turnout at elections.

Because it was not possible even for many electoral watchdog to observe the elections for security reasons. The election center no. 135001 in Al-Shaib Girls Secondary School in Vadi Hajar district of Mosul, where the observation was made, was visited. In this center, which is located in a densely-populated residential district, the low-turnout was observed. It was also reflected on the polls. According to observations, the turnout was almost at a rate of 10 per cent as from 11.30. Only 31 of 446 electors registered in one of the stations within the election centers, while 67 of 450 registered electors in the other station went to the polls. Hence, people were allowed to drive in the streets as from 13.00 to increase the electoral turnout. Nevertheless, it might be asserted that this situation did not lead to a considerable increase in electoral turnout.

On the other hand, procedures related to elections are conducted quite properly. We talked to election officers and they said they did not witness any problem during the voting process. As a matter of fact, the officials from the Independent High Electoral Commission in Iraq (IHEC) visit the election centers from time to time to prevent any possible infraction of the procedure. However, according to the observations, the most important setback was the fact that security forces entered in election centers and even in the electoral stations, where the ballot boxes were found, with their “guns”. This situation raises a question mark in minds in terms of the well-functioning of the elections. For instance, the fact that heavy-armed and 12 armored vehicles as well as lots of police officers came along with the 3rd Division Commander under the Federal Police Department and entered in the election center when he came to vote in the election center where we made observation was a quite negative scene. However, we did not witness any problem during the observation. The security officers did not intervene with the electors. Likewise, neither security officers nor returning officers intervened with the election watchdog committee while we were observing the election process. Since the Turkish watchdog committee was the only foreign watchdog committee in Mosul, the committee attracted a great deal of attention of both the people and the press. However, during the period when Turkey and Iraq have been going through problems in their relations, the pro-government media organs and politicians in Iraq criticized Turkish watchdog team and asserted that it was an intervention in the elections. However, the fact that the Turkish election watchdog team was invited by the Independent High Electoral Commission in Iraq (IHEC), and that Turkey had no request to observe the elections in Iraq should not be overlooked. Moreover, in addition to a great number of press members and outside broadcast vehicles, retuning officers and electors also clearly saw how the watchdog committee observed the elections in the aforesaid election center. It is believed that parties who have problems with Turkey and who are not comfortable with Turkish presence in Mosul strive to dispraise Turkey in the eyes of the Iraqi people by making such allegations. However, even the fact that Turkey sent 6-member watchdog committee to Mosul, which is alleged to be the most dangerous city of Iraq, and took risk for its citizens and itself is one of the most important indicators of Turkey's willingness to contribute to Iraq's stability.

21 June 2013

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