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My First Election:
Anbar’s Youngest Voters Torn Between Hope, Fear And Family Permission

Kamal al-Ayash
In Anbar, thousands of young voters will be eligible to participate in upcoming elections for the first time. Their attitudes? A mix of the deepest pessimism and hopeful enthusiasm.
5.04.2018  |  Anbar
The future voters of Iraq.
The future voters of Iraq.

Imad Ahmad is 19 and works in his father’s grocery store in central Ramadi. “This is a country where nothing ever works out,” the pessimistic teen, who has grown up in one of the largest cities in the central Iraqi province of Anbar, says. “Demonstrations and elections seem to be affected by international forces and the opinion of the Iraqi people is not worth the paper it is written on.”

Ahmad was responding to questions about whether, as a young Iraqi now eligible to vote, he would be registering his name on electoral rolls. The answer was no.

I feel ashamed when I see these young people rushing to participate.

But not all newly eligible voters in Anbar feel this way. Asked the same question, Amjad Talal, an 18-year-old in Ramadi, says that he and his friends from high school all went to put their names on the electoral roll together. They did their research, took all the documents they needed and they felt as though they were off on a picnic, he says.

"I always wanted to have this [voter] card which allows me to have a voice,” Talal told NIQASH. “Now my friends and I can choose a suitable person to represent us, someone who won’t try to undermine our dreams of change and our desire to participate.”

He says registering to vote has made him feel a little different. “I used to see the political propaganda, but it meant nothing to me really,” he explains. “Now we are discussing the elections, researching the candidates and trying to decide who would be the best choice.”

Authorities in Anbar say that more than 160,000 names have been added to the electoral register, as new voters – locals born between 1997 and 2000 – were registered as being of legal age to participate in elections. 

NIQASH met some of these young voters in the playground of Khwarizmi secondary school in Fallujah. Some of the students brought up a problem many young Iraqi voters must deal with. They said that they were ready and willing to take part in the May elections, even though they had yet to receive their voting cards. But, they added, their families were not particularly supportive and were reluctant to help the young would-be voters get hold of the cards.

A poster in Ramadi calls on locals to update their details on electoral rolls.

 

“Many of the sons of Fallujah city want to take part but they are influenced strongly by their families and society,” Abdul Aziz-Kamal, 18 and recently graduated, points out. “And those often think that the political system and elections are corrupt.”

“Young voters dream of change and want to support other successful young people who are leaders in this country,” he suggests.

“We see more and more young people leading and more attention is being paid to the concerns of Iraqi youth,” adds Aziz-Kamal’s friend, Alaa Hani, who stands nearby in sportswear, holding a football. “I believe that the next phase in Iraq will be impacted by young Iraqis, who will be both voters and representatives.”

As if to prove this, an older Fallujah resident back out on the street, Abdul-Hamid Fawaz, 43, says he had not been planning on voting in these elections until his son convinced him he should.

Previously he had a very negative impression of elections, he told NIQASH, but this year, at his son’s urging, he was taking his wife and two daughters to update their names on the electoral roll, as well as his own.

“I would never have done that myself, but I feel ashamed when I see these young people rushing to participate,” Fawaz explained. “I have told myself that maybe Iraq’s future will be better with the new generation. We should support them with our own experience and we should not try to limit their enthusiasm. Perhaps, together with these young voters we can give Iraq back to its people.”

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