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Ballot Problems in Ninewa

Northern province has had more than its share of election hitches, with some ballot boxes tampered with and others delivered too late to be used.
By Yaseen al-Rubai

More than 10,000 ballot papers from Ninewa have been declared invalid, in the latest election problem to afflict this northern province.


Fareed Ayar, spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, IECI, said papers taken from some 300 ballot boxes, representing 40 polling stations in the province, had been rejected because of irregularities.


On February 9, the IECI had announced a delay to the announcement of final election results, so that it could recount the papers from the 300 problem boxes from Ninewa.


Once the decision was taken to declare the papers null and void, the IECI was finally able to announce national results on February 13, which will become official after a three-day grace period in which candidates can file complaints and appeals.


Some of the papers from Ninewa may have been tampered with after militants managed to steal ballot boxes.


The province also suffered insurgent attacks on polling stations on election day. The main town, Mosul, has been a particularly volatile area in recent months.


IECI staffer Safwat Rasheed told a press conference that only 93 of the 330 polling stations in Ninewa were able to open on election day. Some remained closed because of security threats, while others were ransacked by militants.


Turnout in Ninewa was about 17 per cent for the National Assembly ballot; separate provincial elections were held the same day in Ninewa and the other 17 Iraqi governorates.


Even before the hold-up caused by the ballot boxes, Ninewa had been plagued with election problems. Kurds, Christians, Turkoman and others living in and around Mosul complained that they were denied the right to vote by a mixture of bureaucratic ineptitude and insurgent intimidation.


A number of towns around Mosul, such as Sinjar and Hamdaniyah, did not have enough ballots papers or boxes for the numbers of people registered and keen to vote. Local election officers told IWPR that the IECI – made aware of the shortage - dispatched extra ballot boxes to Mosul only on January 31, a day after the elections.


As well as ballot-box shortages in their areas, minority groups such as the Assyrian Christians feel they were excluded from the election in other ways.


Yonadim Khana, the head of the Assyrian Democratic Movement party, believes that about 200,000 Christians living in the Mosul area were unable to vote because they feared they would be kidnapped if they went to the polls.


But election officials said none of the problems was significant enough to alter the overall results announced on February 13. IECI director Adel al-Lami said no election re-runs would be held in Ninewa or anywhere else to make up for the deficiencies.


Al-Lami said it was highly unlikely that the irregularities seen in Ninewa would change the outcome, as the number of ballot papers deemed invalid was not sufficient to alter the distribution of votes between the various parties and coalitions here.


The IECI has already received complaints about the problems in Ninewa from a number of political groups including the Shia-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, the Kurdish Alliance List, the Iraqi Turkoman Front and the Assyrian Democratic Movement.


Spokesman Ayar said an IECI committee made up of lawyers and other experts are now reviewing complaints and appeals, and will make a recommendation to a council established by the IECI to deliver a final verdict.


“We have nothing to hide,” said Ayar. “We had a historic election and the world was satisfied by it, but we don’t claim it was a total success. There may have been problems and violations, and if we made any mistakes, we will talk frankly about it. We are not afraid of telling the truth.”


Yaseen al-Rubai is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.