Last weekend, over 600,000 military men and women cast votes in a special ballot. Critics are already saying that if the Iraqi PM’s party didn’t force them to vote for it, then they persuaded them with
Special voting saw hundreds of thousands of members of the Iraqi army and police forces cast their votes for the upcoming provincial elections early. The actual elections will be held this coming Saturday, April 20.
But opposition politicians are already worried that the majority of these votes will be cast for politicians aligned with the current Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. If there is a poor voter turnout, votes cast by the country’s security forces could even prove decisive.
As with other elections in Iraq, the special, ballot was made available to prisoners, hospital patients and the army and police. The special ballot was available to 720,443 people, of which over 600,000 were estimated to be members of the military or police forces. The special voting took place last Saturday, April 13, and ended at 5pm.
Regardless of their affiliations, opposition politicians already know that most of the army and security forces are either loyal to the current Prime Minister, or afraid of him. They say that over the past seven years al-Maliki has used his position as Iraq’s leader to buy their loyalty and extend his influence. This is why they believe most of them will already have voted for al-Maliki or those who support him.
Many opposition politicians also claim that al-Maliki and his party and its representatives have been manipulating the special ballots. But many of them have been afraid to say so openly for fear of being targeted.
Some did make the point in public though. Ali al-Tamimi, an MP for the Ahrar bloc, which is closely affiliated with the powerful Sadrist movement, said that observers from his bloc saw security forces staff being told to vote for certain people in Karbala, Basra and Babel.
Former Iraqi Prime Minister, Ayad Allawi, who is one of al-Maliki’s main political opponents, said that he had information from army officers saying that they had been pressured to vote for a particular person or list. Allawi also criticised Iraq’s public broadcaster, Iraqiya TV, for promoting al-Maliki’s candidates.
NIQASH also spoke to several officers who said that huge pressure had been exerted on them to vote for al-Maliki. And if they had felt no pressure, they indicated that this was because they supported al-Maliki anyway because he paid them.
“Many of us were told we had to vote even though some of us didn’t want to,” an officer in the army’s eighth division told NIQASH under condition of anonymity. “We were afraid we’d be punished or transferred and that’s why we eventually did vote. Our leaders asked us – both implicitly and explicitly – to vote for al-Maliki’s list. They even gave us the right party number to vote for.”
Another man, this time a captain in the Iraqi police force, told NIQASH that al-Maliki was the best candidate for Prime Minister. He spoke about the privileges he enjoyed while working in the security forces – things like higher salaries, special protection and free housing. He concluded that he liked al-Maliki best because “thanks to him, we’ve been able to defeat terrorism and eradicate their militias”.
Obviously not everyone likes the idea of this kind of loyalty to the paymaster, considering it misplaced. “It is so unfortunate that the majority of the army and police feel that those who appointed them to their current positions in the military apparatus are worthy of honour,” politician Faeq al-Sheikh told NIQASH. “It’s an honour those people are not worthy of. Yet it’s the same feeling that has made many members of the security forces feel obliged to vote for those who gave them jobs.”
The Sun Network for Monitoring Elections, an umbrella of Iraqi civil society organizations who check on election processes, said they had recorded many violations during the special ballots. One of the biggest problems, they said, was the fact that many of the military men came to polling stations accompanied by officers, who then watched them vote. The Sun Network says this is a clear constitutional violation.
“Some high-ranking officers were telling voters to vote for certain lists and additionally hundreds of army and police officers were not allowed to vote for technical reasons,” Hussein Ibrahimi, the director of the Sun Network in Baghdad, told NIQASH.
Election monitors from the Tammuz Organization for Social Development made similar observations. Additionally the head of their organisation, Fayan al-Sheikh, said that the ballot boxes containing votes cast by the police and army would only be counted a week later. “This is concerning,” al-Sheikh said.
“Keeping the ballot boxes for one week without counting the votes increases the risk of tampering,” MP Abdul-Hussein Abtan noted.
However the electoral overseers from IHEC, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, were not too concerned about any of these things. They felt it was fine that the special votes only be counted a week later. They also said they had received about a hundred notifications of violations of the electoral process but that most of these were “not so serious”. That means they wouldn’t affect the final results of the elections.
“The special voting for the army and police went well and there weren\'t any serious electoral or security breaches," IHEC\'s Miqdad al-Sharifi, who heads the Commission’s administration, told NIQASH.
As it is, the results of this special ballot won’t be known until next week; they’ll be counted at the same time as all the other votes. Obviously no one knows who will win in these provincial elections as yet. It is safe to say though, that, this being Iraq, the vote counting will not pass without heated debate, potential re-counts, appeals and doubtless, many other issues.