Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Erbil Takes Shine Off Kurdish Turnout

Officials apparently nervous about support for charter accused of ballot-rigging, but Kurds overall appear to have given it overwhelming backing.
By Rebaz Mahmood

Voting centre staffers in Erbil opened their doors at 7 am. And then they waited.


Many expected a rush of enthused Kurdish voters, eagerly lining up to cast their votes in favour of a constitution that Kurdish leaders helped draft. Voters instead trickled in slowly, and in what appeared to be smaller numbers than during the January parliamentary elections.


But as in January, numerous voting irregularities were reported at polling stations in the Kurdish city.


Hemin Salih Ismael, office coordinator for the Rozh monitoring network in Erbil, said the majority of violations occurred after 3 pm, when ballot boxes were allegedly stuffed in favour of the constitution and security, police and electoral staff members are said to have urged voters to back the charter.


Karwan Mahdi Osman, leader of a monitoring team, said security personnel dressed in civilian clothing arrived at Ahmedi Khani prepatory school in the Mantkawa neighbourhood with ink-stained fingers - indicating they had already cast their ballots - and voted more than once.


At the Alaa preparatory school for girls, which served as a polling centre, an official told IWPR that voters who were not registered to vote there cast their ballots.


She said she "made a personal decision to turn a blind eye to some people [who voted without being registered] like the elderly and sick. I know this is violation but in order for their vote not be lost I allowed them to vote".


Kamal Ghambar, Erbil director of the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq, said he would investigate allegations of voting irregularities.


Officials were unable to say how many people turned up in Erbil and refrained from giving estimated results.


Some Kurdish voters expressed concerns with the constitution ahead of the referendum arguing that the draft hurt women’s rights, delayed transferring Kirkuk back to Kurdish control and did not go far enough in facilitating Kurdish autonomy.


Still, those who went to the polls were largely expected to endorse the constitution.


Khursheed Jabbar, an Erbil resident, said, "I voted for the sake of the Kurds." Sti Taha, another local, said, "I voted so that there will be no more wars."


In Sulaimaniyah, there were media reports of a 72 per cent voter turnout, with 98 per cent backing the constitution.


In the troubled multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk, voters expressed mixed views on the charter. Kurds want to administer Kirkuk, a historically Kurdish and Turkoman city, settled by Arabs under Saddam Hussein’s regime.


Voter turnout is said to have reached 78 per cent, with 63 per cent endorsing the constitution. Omer al-Jubouri, office manager of the electoral commission in Kirkuk, said Kurdish voters turned out in higher rates than Sunni Arabs and Turkomen.


Ali Mahdi, Turkomen Front deputy chief, said Turkomen political leaders were not united and told voters to make their decisions independently.


"We, the Sunni Turkomen, voted against the constitution because it did not give us all of our rights and because it marginalises Turkomen in Iraq," said Turkan Shukur, representative of the Iraqi Turkomen Front in Kirkuk and member of the Kirkuk Provincial Council.


Mohammed Khalil, a Sunni Arab member of the provincial council, said he rejected the constitution, although he admitted that more Sunni Arabs came out to vote than in the January elections.


In Sulaimaniya "the process in general ran smoothly", said Sozan Othman, media director of the electoral commission in this Kurdish city.


"Most of the voters were elderly,” said Wahid Ismail, coordinator of one of the polling stations. “The youth were missing."


He attributed this partly to a general feeling of powerlessness among local people.


"I didn't participate in the referendum because I have no faith in political parties,” said Kawa Namiq, a 20-year-old student.


Rebaz Mahmood is an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah.


Saham Samad, an IWPR trainee journalist in Kirkuk, and Farman Abdulrahman, an IWPR trainee journalist in Sulaimaniyah, contributed to this report.