It has been exactly one week since I voted in the Iraqi elections here in Toronto, Canada – as part of the out of country voting – and the ink is still visible on my finger. It is as if to remind us that the election wasn’t just a one time casting of a ballot, but a lengthy and painful process, especially for us Assyrian and Christian voters.
As the ballot counting started, we started hearing news of thousands of Christian out-of-country ballots being invalidated, due to not having selected a province on the ballot paper, and for not having shown proper documentation. Let us address each one:
- Excuse number 1: Not Showing Proper Documents. It is one thing to not be allowed to vote at all for being ineligible, and quiet another when you do vote only to find out that your vote is invalidated a week later. The IHEC (Iraqi High Election Commission) changed voting eligibility rules literally in the last minutes leading up to the elections, throwing into air the dreams of thousands of being able to vote. Most still went ahead and tried to vote. Some were successful, some weren’t, due to not having the proper documentations, as outlined by the mysterious IHEC requirements. The requirements were as silly as to not recognize something as valuable as a US passport, as a proof that a person was born in Iraq. This was first accepted, then rejected then accepted again, only for it to be deemed not good enough a week later after the election had been concluded.
- Excuse number 2: Not Voting for a Province or Region. This excuse is even more appalling that the first one. As Christians, we were voting based on a quota of 5 seats in the Iraqi parliament and not based on regions or provinces. I for one did mention Baghdad in the ballot paper, but that was beside the point. I wasn’t voting for a candidate based on which province he hailed from or resided in. I was choosing a candidate based on his or her slate (i.e list 389, 390 etc..)
These two excuses have been used by the IHEC staff at their Arbil headquarters to void thousands of valuable Christian votes from USA, Canada, Australia and likely many other countries. These thousands of purged ballots could easily mean the difference between gaining all the seats allocated for the Christian quota or just a few of them. Moreover, it will reflect bad on Christian participation and could be used by others to argue that our numbers are so small, we don’t deserve to get much in the new Iraq.
A Part of a Bigger Plot?
But this could be a part of a bigger plot, and Assyrians are falling victims to it. It is the results of the new reality in Iraq, where alliances and personal political interests trump almost everything else. Let us look at the 4 major players in this election:
- State of Law Coalition
- Iraqi National Movement (al-Iraqiya)
- National Iraqi Alliance
- Kurdistani Alliance
Basically, the higher you are in the list above, the more votes you are expected to get in this election (early results support this) The first one on the list, the State of the Law Coalition, is the incumbent prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s list, and is being seriously challenged by the second in the list, the Iraqi National Movement (Al-Iraqiya.) The latter is headed by Ayad Allawi, who himself was a prime minister in 2005. This list has a mass appeal amongst many Iraqis, including out-of-country voters. They see in Allawi someone who can restore a sense of security and stability to Iraq. In fact, Ayad Allawi,a moderate Shitte, has found mass appeal even amongst traditional rivals Sunnis. One of those in his coalition is Sunni vise president, Tariq Al-Hashimi. Al-Hashimi recently created a big controversy when he publicly asked that Iraqi president Jalal Talabani step down, and be replaced by an Arab president, preferably himself (Al-Hashimi) This didn’t sit well with Kurds!
This has made the second list, ‘Al-Iraqiya’, an enemy for both the ‘State of Law Coalition’ (List #1) as well the ‘Kurdistani Alliance’ (List #4) The first was worried about Ayad Allawi’s Al-Iraqiya taking away its votes and threatening its dominance of the Iraqi parliament. The ‘Kurdistani List’ on the other hand was worried about the remarks made by Al-Hashimi from the ‘Al-Iraqiya’ list to install an Arab Iraqi president. So in essence, lists #1 and #4 united to go against List #2. The result of this newly-found alliance was the vicious attempt to invalidate thousands of Iraqi votes from the diaspora, knowing full well that these votes could go for Allawi, and in the case of Christians, for List 389 (an Assyrian list that the Kurds have traditionally opposed and tried to defeat through their own Assyrian proxy and puppet lists)
In other words, the Iraqi Christian vote in the diaspora, is being sacrificed for a bigger plot. And if you look at this from the prospective of the ‘Kurdistani Alliance’, it is a win-win situation. First, it means a defeat for the list of Al-Hashimi, the Iraqi VP who wants to replace Kurdish president Talabani, with an Arab president. Second, they are winning in that thousands of Assyrian Christian votes going to List 389 (Al-Rafidain list, headed by Zowaa) are being voided, and never making it to the final tally.
Iraq should be moving towards more democracy and openness, and not back to the old days of oppression and taking away of one’s voice. Christians and hundreds of thousands of other Iraqis abroad traveled hundreds of miles to be part of this historical chance to vote. Let us hope that the IHEC takes this into consideration and honors every vote that has been cast. Anything short of that, or to attempt to use our votes for bigger political gains, should and will not tolerated by any Iraqi. Much blood has been spilled in Iraq to get us to this day. Let us honor these sacrifices for a more tolerant and democratic Iraq and grant everyone their fair share.