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Sects + Sensibilities:
Mixed Population Means Uncertain Election Outcomes In Diyala

The demographically diverse province of Diyala has it all: Politicians campaigning on sectarian and ethnic issues, feasts to entice apathetic voters and tribes who can make or break their own politicians.
10.05.2018  |  Diyala
A poster encouraging Diyala locals to vote.
A poster encouraging Diyala locals to vote.

As with anywhere else in Iraq, the streets of the central Iraqi province of Diyala have been filled with campaign posters and banners in advance of the Iraqi election, which will take place on May 12. And in the same way as elsewhere, the locals here are not particularly confident that this round of elections will bring a major change to their country.

“Many people here were opposed to the elections and even refused to renew their voter details,” says Ilham Qadouri, a local civil society activist. “But we have tried hard to raise political awareness and stress the importance of participation.”

Politicians campaigning here have also tried to influence voters by hosting large meals and parties.  

If that politician doesn’t fulfil his obligations toward the people of the tribe ... the tribe could even force the person to withdraw from office in some cases.

“Most of the people here will prefer to vote for new faces,” Qadouri predicts. “They don’t like the people who were previously in office because they feel like they did nothing for them.”

There are 334 candidates from 22 different political groups campaigning for office in this province, each trying to get one of the 14 seats Diyala is allocated in parliament in Baghdad. And the candidates reflect Diyala’s mixed ethnic and sectarian make up, with Kurds, Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims all present.

Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that the strongest competitors right now are the lists headed by the current prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, and the list led by Hadi al-Ameri, who represents the political group that evolved out of the Shiite Muslim militias who fought the extremist Islamic State group.

 And al-Abadi’s list might just have an edge here, as the prime minister is seen as being responsible for pushing the Islamic State, or IS, group out of the province and as having made the right promises for the future, about reconstruction and reconciliation.

While al-Ameri’s militia-based parties are also popular here, they are only best liked in certain areas of the province, where there is a Shiite Muslim-majority population.

Once again, the events of the Kurdish independence referendum will have an impact on Kurdish politicians in Diyala. Almost all of the usual Kurdish political parties are campaigning here but they are relying mostly on the votes of around 81,000 Kurdish locals, resident in the Khanaquin area.

 

Updating voter records in Diyala.

 

Some Kurdish locals left the area after the Iraqi Kurdish military were forced out after the referendum in September last year, says Khadija Khada Bash, a former member of Diyala’s provincial council. Those Kurdish locals who recorded their departure with the authorities will be able to vote together with displaced people in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Khada Bash believes that the Kurdish parties are probably only likely to get one seat from Diyala this year.

And there are also the tribal preferences to consider here. Most voters in Diyala want change but they don’t trust the established parties, say Qais Ali, a member of the al-Darraji tribe. He explains that each tribe in Diyala decides on one candidate, usually a member of their own clan, and then all of the voters in the tribe choose that person, come election day.  

Some observers suggest that having the tribe choose a candidate is a bad idea because it’s a nepotistic practice and potentially side lines better qualified candidates.

However as Ali argues, “if that politician doesn’t fulfil his obligations toward the people of the tribe and towards the country, the tribe can hold the candidate accountable. The tribe could even force the person to withdraw from office in some cases.”  

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