niqash | Adel Kamal | Mosul | 08.12.2008Niqash meets Abdul-Khaliq Ahmad Dabbagh, director of the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) in Ninawa province.
Niqash: How many entities will participate in the elections in Ninawa province and are these entities the same as those which participated in 2005?
Dabbagh: Twenty-seven entities have registered with our office: 17 political parties, seven coalitions and three separate entities. Some of these entities participated in the last elections and hold seats in the current provincial council and there are also new entities joining for the first time. Regarding the number of candidates, it has reached approximately 400. I cannot give an exact number because some candidates submitted their applications to the IHEC central office in Baghdad instead of in Mosul. The candidates all competing for Ninawa’s 37 provincial council seats. Twenty seven are allocated for men and the rest for women.
Niqash: Will there be an increase in the number of polling stations compared to the 2005 elections?
Dabbagh: The coming election in Ninawa will witness the opening of 62 polling stations and 4146 electoral stations and these are big numbers compared to 2005. In 2005, 20 polling stations were opened with 2625 electoral stations. This happened because of the very difficult security conditions in that period and not because the election office failed to perform its duty. There were no military forces or police and electoral personnel did not have sufficient expertise. 2005 also witnessed a large scale popular boycott.
Niqash: It was recently announced that more than half of all voters in Ninawa have updated their voter registration.
Dabbagh: More than 575,000 citizens in Ninawa visited the centers to update the voter registration list. This number is actually half of all voters in Ninawa and this is not a coincidence. It is the result of prior planning and significant efforts undertaken by Ninawa’s election office. We have tried to reach the most distant geographic areas of the province. We prepared a detailed field study and very early on, after the beginning of the registration process on July 15, we discovered that people were only visiting 17 out of the 57 registration centers. Therefore, we adopted two methods which contributed to the increase in the number of people visiting the offices. The first method was to hold meetings with Muslim and Christian religious figures, heads of districts and tribal leaders and they all seemed to be positive. This positive attitude was reflected in the increase in the number of people registering themselves. The other method used was to send registration officers to visit inhibited areas, where people could not visit registration offices for various security or health reasons and this method also helped to increase the number of registered people.
Niqash: Does the absence of a population census in Iraq hamper election preparations?
Dabbagh: There were considerable constraints faced by the IHEC when it started performing its tasks with the absence of a census. For example, identifying the number and names of the deceased in order to delete their names from the voters’ register. But we were able to do this with the help of Ninawa’s health department. But in any case, the current security conditions do not allow us to conduct a comprehensive population census, because we cannot guarantee the safety of staff in certain areas of the country.
Niqash: The IHEC in Ninawa was criticized for holding job interviews in Erbil instead of Mosul. This was interpreted as Kurdish government interference in the election process.
Dabbagh: The choice of the location was made on the central level, i.e., the decision was taken by the national office in Baghdad and not by our office in Ninawa… Erbil’s role in the interviews was limited to hosting the meetings. Of course, the national office in Baghdad believed that holding interviews in Mosul would be a difficult task from a security perspective. If applicants gather in one place they risk their lives because there are no guarantees protecting them from car bombs. Another reason for choosing Erbil is that there are no hotels in Mosul big enough to accommodate 50 people. Erbil is secure and equipped with adequate hospitality and accommodation.
Niqash: Do you expect election success in Ninawa and are you worried by security threats?
Dabbagh: There is no reason to stop people in Mosul city, the province’s center, or in the districts and surrounding areas, from active participation in elections, especially as we know that forces which boycotted the previous elections are now participating. Through my direct involvement in the updating of the voters’ register and my direct contact with people, I can feel that there is a change in people’s attitudes regarding the political process in general. The majority of people agree that the ballot box is the solution to Ninawa’s problems. The other element which will contribute to the success of elections in Ninawa is the role of Ninawa’s operational command in ensuring feelings of security. This is a very important issue on the moral level and there are special security arrangements for election day which will prevent security infiltrations.