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

Some Sunni Parties Regret Boycott

Sunnis in al-Anbar governorate face prospect of not being fairly represented at local and national level.
By Dawood Salman

Iraqi politicians who won seats in the al-Anbar governorate council are facing claims that their victory was illegitimate because of low voter turnout in the mainly-Sunni province.


Only two per cent of the governorate’s population cast their vote on January 30 after leading Sunni Arab groups such as the Muslim Scholars’ Association called for a boycott of the election. They argued that a fair poll could not be organised because of poor security in the mainly Sunni areas and the presence of foreign occupation troops in Iraq.


The final results in the election for the al-Anbar governorate, a troubled province west of Baghdad, were certified on February 17. They showed the Iraqi Islamic Party received 2,692 votes while the Iraqi Independent Assembly came second with 755 votes. The total number of votes cast in the governorate was 3,775.


Much has been made of the Sunni boycott’s impact at the national level, with leading Shia and Kurdish parties debating the best way to include the disenfranchised Sunni minority in the new government.


But Sunnis in al-Anbar governorate are now facing the very real possibility that they will not be fairly represented at the local level either.


That has caused a backlash against groups that encouraged the boycott as well as anger towards the Iraqi interim government, which Sunnis say failed to provide a secure environment for the vote.


Ahmed al-Izi, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, called the elections “legally incomplete”. While his party did well in the ballot, it had been one of the main supporters of the Sunni boycott.


“If we hadn’t withdrawn from the election, the percentage [of voters] would have been greater, but we will work for the sake of the citizens and our representatives in the council will continue what the previous council has done,” he said.


But Khidhir Awad, a former member of al-Anbar’s governorate council whose party boycotted the elections, told IWPR that he was deeply disappointed by the results. “We should have entered the elections and had candidates,” he said.


Al-Anbar council member Sheikh Said al-Dulaimy said the interim government and Iraq’s electoral commission should have done more to ensure a fair and safe vote for all Iraqis. He suggested that the commission could have replaced the polling sites that were bombed before the poll.


And Farid Ayar, a spokesman for Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission, said that the security situation in Al-Anbar kept the commission from supervising polling sites and, in some cases, from even knowing where the stations were located.


The commission did allow voters from al-Anbar to register and cast ballots on the same day. There also were special polling sites set up for local voters who had been displaced by fighting in cities such as Fallujah.


Al-Anbar residents are now demanding that their leaders find solutions to the problems caused by the boycott. They are pressuring their leaders to attend National Assembly meetings and take part in writing Iraq’s new constitution. In addition, some are demanding that new elections be held immediately at the governorate level.


Members of the leading Iraqi Islamic party have said that they will work hard to address the concerns of voters in al-Anbar.


Khidhr Abdul-Jabbar Abbas told IWPR that one of his party’s most important priorities is to restore peace and order in the governorate. A plan to deploy 3,000 police in the middle of the governorate is already underway, he said. In addition, the party is committed to building consensus with other parties and tribal sheikhs in order to formulate a plan for the new governorate council.


Others parties are simply hoping that the next round of elections in December will turn out better.


“We hoped to win both the National Assembly and the governorate council but we were not in the assembly and we won only three seats of the governorate council, but we look forward to the coming elections,” said Ahmed al-Abduli, of the Iraqi Independent Assembly.


Dawood Salman is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.


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