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Apathy, Distrust + Reconstruction:
Many Anbar Locals Have Given Up On Iraqi Politics, Won’t Vote

Kamal al-Ayash
Scarred by elections past, despondent about the state of their hometowns and distrustful of candidates, Anbar voters wonder why they should even bother with upcoming elections.
15.02.2018  |  Anbar
Ramadi's municipal authorities remove rubble left over from fighting the IS group.
Ramadi's municipal authorities remove rubble left over from fighting the IS group.

Election campaigning has also started in the central Iraqi province of Anbar, much of which had previously been controlled by extremists. Despite the rallies, posters and new candidates from among local youth, locals remain despondent about the outcome and many say they are sick of politics in Iraq and won’t bother to take part in the elections, slated to be held in May this year.

When you talk about elections, it’s like talking about a big game where everybody already knows the rules.

“The result is predetermined, and the propaganda and election programs are nothing but a waste of time,” says Abdul Hamid al-Saghir, a local from the city of Ramadi, in his 60s. “Anyone who actually gets into parliament has the same face, they’re just wearing different clothes,” he argues. “The first time they used religion to get elected and Islamic parties were competing for votes. The second time tribal affiliations were used to substitute for the religious parties after the Iraqi people rejected them. Today they are using young people, under the pretext of bringing new blood to the political process and to mobilise the youth. But the engine driving all these parties – the tribes, the youth, the religious men – is always the same.”

“If we investigate the backgrounds of the new [candidate] names that are mentioned during TV interviews and on social media, and if we look at what they are campaigning on, we will find that a lot of the new candidates are actually just implementing the agendas of the big political blocs that most Iraqi people no longer like, especially people in Anbar,” says Mazen al-Khalifawi, a 38-year-old resident of Ramadi. “These are the same parties that we accuse of looting the country’s money and causing Iraq’s destruction.”

Some locals say they are suspicious of new parties for financial reasons: Where are these young people getting the money to fund their campaign activities?, they ask,

It’s a “cheap game”, says Mohammed Radi al-Halbusi, 46, a resident of Karmah in Anbar, about 10 kilometres east of the city of Fallujah. Al-Halbusi says he most likely won’t go and vote. When you talk about elections, it’s like talking about a big game where everybody already knows the rules, he told NIQASH.

Additionally, al-Halbusi talks about the vote brokers. “They collect votes and they pay you money for them,” he explains. “We know them very well.”

This year the collection of votes has started earlier than usual, he notes, with the brokers paying people IQD50,000 (around US$41) monthly to buy a person’s voter ID until after election day. “The elections are already decided,” al-Halbusi shrugs. “The people who buy the votes have a lot of experience doing this.”

 

Bulldozing ruins in Ramadi.

 

There are over a million potential voters in Anbar and there are 71 polling centres throughout the province, as well as offices to oversee the polling centres. However, some of the latter are still closed as they are based in areas that were, until relatively recently, controlled by the extremist group known as the Islamic State. 

According to Iraq’s Independent high Electoral Commission, or IHEC, only 31 percent of potential voters in Anbar have updated their entries on the electoral roll, a significant sign of political lethargy and voter apathy.

Even local tribal leaders are expressing these kinds of feelings. Previously community and tribal leaders would often persuade their family members and distant relations who to vote for. Politicians would spend time and money on sweetening up the tribal leaders to exactly that end.

But as Mahmoud al-Jarboua, a tribal leader in the Ramadi area, put it, politicians were not welcome in his home this year and he would not try and convince any of his cousins to vote for any specific person.

“Tribal leaders and heads of families in the community can’t put pressure on their followers this year for several reasons,” al-Jarboua told NIQASH. “For one thing the province is still in desperate need of reconstruction and state services. But there is also a big lack of trust between the candidates and the voters and that cannot be bridged.”

Of course, not everyone feels that way. Ahmad al-Fayad, 42, is a candidate for the so-called “youth renaissance” and he says that he and his colleagues are trying to offer voters something different.

“We are trying to stay away from making any concrete promises,” he says, noting that too many promises have been broken by Iraqi politicians in the past. “We only want to talk about the future really, and to reach out to as many people as possible. But it is difficult. The voices of the corrupt people here are still very loud.”

Additionally, many more Iraqis are joining or starting political parties, or at the very least, making their opinions known. Part of this is due to the fact that the security situation is more stable than it has been during past elections, when anybody with a strong political opinion could find their life in danger.

“But our mission does seem almost impossible,” al-Fayad admits finally. “People have lost confidence in everything around them and are not convinced of any party’s platform. They’re not even motivated to get their names on the electoral roll, which,” he warns, “could give some politicians the opportunity to manipulate the results.”  

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