The legitimacy of the recent provincial elections in Diyala Province has been challenged by claims that many displaced voters were unable to cast their ballots. Critics say thousands of Shiite and Kurdish families
Diyala’s election battle saw 636 candidates (representing 44 political entities) competing for 29 provincial council seats. According to observers turnout was weak, estimated at around 50%, and opponents say this was because too many people were denied their right to participate in the election.
Thousands of families across the province have been displaced since 2003 as a result of military, sectarian and al-Qaeda violence and intimidation. In order to cast a ballot, voters had to be listed with a specific polling booth in the official registry and many of the displaced were not correctly registered.
Diyala’s Kurdistan Alliance accused the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) of depriving 16,000 Kurdish families, who have returned to Khanaqin, their election rights.
On Election Day 700 displaced families demonstrated in Ba’quba’s city center. The demonstrators called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to allow them to vote and accused the IHEC of blocking their rights for sectarian reasons.
However, an IHEC official said that the government and the IHEC were not to blame for the inability of some voters to cast their ballots. “People are responsible because they did not go to the IHEC offices in Diyala to update their records and ensure that their names were registered in the voters’ registry," said Hussein Ali Hussein, the IHEC’s information officer.
Ibrahim Hasan Bajalan, head of Diyala’s provincial council told Niqash that the issue of displaced people remains one of the most sensitive issues in the province. “Solving the problem of 20,000 displaced families requires consensus between Diyala’s political blocs, and the implementation of Article 140 for the normalization of the situation in the disputed areas, considered the main reason for depriving 16,000 Kurdish families of their right to participate in local elections.”
In addition to the claims of the displaced, the Iraqi Islamic Party said that turnout was restricted by an arrest campaign carried out by security forces in a number of polling stations in Miqdadiya, north of Ba’quba.
Mahdi al-Jibouri, head of the Islamic party bloc in Diyala, told Niqash that "the police arrested a number of voters near Miqdadiya’s polling centers claiming that they were wanted by security forces. This made people reluctant to go to polling centers for fear of arrest." He also said that the “ban imposed by security services on the movement of vehicles” restricted access for many potential voters.
Diyala Police Chief, Brigadier General Muhammad al-Tamimi, said that no voters were arrested and that “security measures were implemented in a way that did not affect voters’ rights.”
According to Taleb Hussein Jawad, from the Shams Network for Election Monitoring, 23 election violations were recorded in the province, including one instance where security forces prevented 120 voters in Kan’an from entering polling booths.
Despite these challenges to the legitimacy of Diyala’s election, many voters expressed optimism. The majority-Sunni population boycotted previous elections and many hope that this vote will now give them the chance to establish a Sunni presence in the political process.
For many voters, despite the lingering controversies, there is hope that a new council will bring an end to the violence and deaths which have afflicted the province for so long.
“I voted today after being deprived my right to vote in previous elections and I hope that Diyala can overcome its crisis and become as safe as it was before the invasion,” said one 51-year old lady.