Kingdom’s Iraqi guests go to polls in ‘crucial’ vote

Kingdom’s Iraqi guests go to polls in ‘crucial’ vote
Kingdom’s Iraqi guests go to polls in ‘crucial’ vote
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Iraqis of different regions, political views, backgrounds and generations headed to polls across the Kingdom over the weekend to “take back” their country.

In 16 election centres and over 100 polling stations in Amman, Zarqa, Irbid and Madaba governorates, Iraqis came out to participate in an election they termed “crucial”.

Electoral observers outnumbered voters in Jabal Amman early Friday, the first day of out-of-country voting for Iraqis, as many were slow to show up at the polls.

Firas Najjar, 41, his wife Taghreed, his son Jalal and his father, said they were “proud” to be among the first to cast their ballots in Jordan.

“It is reassuring to see all the security, the Jordanian forces outside the centre. We hope this is the year Iraqi people take back Iraq,” he told The Jordan Times outside the election centre in Jabal Amman early Friday.

This weekend marked the first election for scores of young Iraqis, such as Ziad Abood, 20, who has spent the last two years living in Amman.

“This is a chance to make a better future,” he said.

Eighteen-year-old Ahmed Al Hal, originally from a village near Baghdad, said he also relished taking part in the process.

“This is the first real vote for Iraq since the 1950s,” said Hal, who has spent the last four years living in Amman.

“Everything has gone great, we were given plenty of time to register and choose who we wanted, there was no pressure at all,” Yasmin Qandeeleh, 47, said, adding that Iraqis this year had “the highest level of freedoms” she has witnessed.

“It seems many family members are voting for different coalitions and different candidates, which is a great sign,” she said.

“It has been a definite success so far,” Iraqi Ambassador in Amman Saad Hayyani told The Jordan Times yesterday, expressing hope that the vote, which ends today, would continue to go smoothly.

Voters from near and far

Sheikh Hashem Ziyadi, 48, came to Jordan from Syria to vote in Tlaa Al Ali with his wife on Friday. Ziyadi, who is originally from Baghdad, said he is voting for the same coalition as in the last parliamentary polls in 2005.

“We are voting for change, we are voting for stability and we are voting for unity,” he told The Jordan Times as he held up his purple-inked finger.

Azad Hashem, 44, was in the Kingdom with his wife for medical tourism when the two decided to cast their ballots from Amman. The couple, who hail from Erbil, said although the process was smooth, they were disappointed by the lack of monitors representing Kurdish political parties.

“They are supposed to be there, they are registered [to be present at the polling station], but there were none when we went in. It makes me just a bit concerned,” Hashem said on Friday.

Mazen, 40, said he voted for incumbent Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s State of Law bloc to “maintain and increase stability”.

“Maliki stands for a strong Iraq, and we should continue this path,” he told The Jordan Times outside an elections centre in Al Hashemi Al Shamali.

Fares Kamel, who has resided in the Kingdom for 11 years, said he voted for Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc to “enhance unity”.

“Unless we build unity in Iraq, I cannot return home,” he said.

Ahmed Alani, who came to the Kingdom from Baghdad in 2002, said that after refusing to vote in the 2005 polls, he was persuaded to take part after “five years of chaos”.

“We are fed up with the situation in Iraq. It is either do nothing and live with the violence or vote for a change,” said the IT manager.

“The Iraqi people deserve a chance,” he said, expressing his gratitude to the Jordanian government for “giving Iraqis a safe environment to vote”.

Minor confusion

The process has not been without its problems, however, and some complained that the voting procedures were “unclear”.

Zainab, a voter in Zarqa, said she was discouraged from voting after she could not vote for her hometown in Basra governorate.

Hiba Mohammad, 27, said she had to travel three times between her home and the elections centre in Al Hashemi Al Shamali before she had the proper identification to cast her ballot.

Hayyani acknowledged there were some complaints over the weekend over the proper documentation required for voting.

“There was some minor confusion over what was necessary to vote, but this is a normal thing in the democratic process,” he said.

For voters, Iraqi national ID cards and refugee and certifications cards issued by the UN and the Red Cross are considered primary identification documents, while passports are secondary documents.

The Iraqi food ration card is the most important document in determining which governorate an Iraqi expatriate can vote in, officials from Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) explained to The Jordan Times.

Vote buying allegations

Ahmed, a registered refugee who has lived in Jordan for less than a year, claimed vote buying was “widespread” in Jordan.

“Some political parties and coalitions are offering $50-100 per vote. Most people are smart and taking the money and voting for who they want,” he said, expressing fear that some political monitors may be present in polling stations to ensure that certain Iraqis who took political money vote a certain way.

There was no visible interaction or interference between poll monitors and voters in dozens of polling stations visited by The Jordan Times in Amman and Zarqa over the weekend.

Apart from two voters who said they were approached with monetary offers for their votes in the lead-up to the elections, it could not be independently verified whether or how often vote buying occurred in the Kingdom this weekend.

One potential voter, Mohammad, who resides in Zarqa, said he was holding out his vote until today, in hopes of receiving a “good offer” of over $200 from a political party.

Hayyani acknowledged there were “rumours” of vote buying, but stressed that the embassy had not received any complaints from voters or political parties about the practice.

“I think these are some people using rumours to create problems,” he said.

Ahmad, a 25-year-old monitor for the Iraqi Unity Alliance working at a polling station in east Amman, said so far, there have been “no voting irregularities”.

“We are concerned about voter fraud, but so far we have seen nothing wrong,” he told The Jordan Times, noting that his coalition has 48 observers across Jordan.

Approximately 113 polling stations opened in 16 centres over the weekend, each polling station designed to accommodate 1,200-1,500 voters over the three-day period, IHEC head in Jordan Nihad Abbas said in a press conference on Friday, stressing that there were no reports of voting irregularities.

Over the weekend there were 300 monitors representing NGOs and various embassies and 900 representing various political parties and coalitions in Iraq. According to IHEC regulations, political entities and NGOs are allowed one monitor per polling station.

Between 32,000-35,000 Iraqis living in Jordan participated in the 2005 elections, according to IHEC.

There are somewhere between 150,000-180,000 Iraqis of voting age residing in Jordan, according to estimates from IHEC and the Iraqi embassy in Amman.

Today marks the final day of voting for Iraqis abroad and the official election day in Iraq.

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