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Iraqis Abroad Angry at Vote Ban

Though the constitutional referendum is over, the exclusion of expatriate Iraqis still rankles.
By Omar Anwar

Iraqis in Britain have expressed anger and frustration at being squeezed out of the referendum on Iraq’s constitution, which was officially approved this week.


Elections rules established under the previous de facto constitution, the Transitional Administrative Law, TAL, banned Iraqis abroad from voting in the plebiscite held earlier in October.


They were, however, given the right to vote in the January 2005 National Assembly elections and will be allowed to cast ballots from outside the country in the December parliamentary ballot.


Many Iraqis in the UK were angered by the referendum ban ruling, arguing it ran counter to the democratic ideals Iraq had strived to achieve.


“Are we Iraqis or not?” asked Haider Sadiq, an academic living in London. “They confiscated our rights, and we will be ruled by a constitution that we never took part in. When you deprive a large portion of people taking part in the constitution, it’s not democracy. That is confiscation of democracy.”


Anmar Jabbar, a physician from Nottingham, added, “This is not acceptable… we took part in the January elections, so why not now? I (wanted) to take part in the future of Iraq. We should have the freedom to vote.”


Hamdiyah al-Hosseini, a deputy director of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, said part of the problem was that the commission did not know how to count votes from abroad, because it might have affected the two-thirds formula set up under TAL. If two-thirds of voters in three of Iraq’s 18 provinces had rejected the constitution, it would have become null and void.


Election officials announced this week that, after a recount of ballots in some provinces, 79 per cent of Iraqis who voted had approved the constitution. Some 60 per cent of eligible voters turned out for the referendum.


It is unlikely that votes from Iraqis abroad would have changed that outcome, said Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. The referendum was going to pass “with or without the (expatriate) vote”, he said. “With the expat vote, the margin would likely have been more significant, that’s all.”


He noted that few Iraqis living abroad voted in the previous election.


Approximately 1.2 million Iraqis were eligible to vote in 14 countries in the January 2005 ballot, but only 275,000 registered to vote.


Still, some said the vote ban was an injustice.


“It’s unfair because they [deprived] the intellectuals and the elite of voting,” said Ahmed Kareem, an Iraqi translator in London. “I’m not surprised by this decision because the Iraqi government is always disorganised.”


An Iraqi is an Iraqi, agreed Bayad Nozad, a doctor in Nottingham. Preventing certain citizens from voting is “absolutely unfair and does not reflect democracy”, he said.


Omar Anwar is an IWPR trainee journalist in London.