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‘i vote for barcelona’
iraqis deface ballots rather than vote

Mustafa Habib
Voter turnout didn\'t seem so different from Iraq’s last elections. But now many Iraqis are boasting that they defaced their ballot papers instead of casting a real vote. Partly its political malaise, partly…
25.04.2013  |  Baghdad
A skull is used to render a vote in Iraq\'s provincial elections null and void.
A skull is used to render a vote in Iraq\'s provincial elections null and void.

Young Baghdad man, Amjad Khudair, is pleased with the way he voted in the country’s provincial elections, held over the weekend. On his ballot paper he wrote: “I vote for Barcelona Football Club”. Barcelona were unsuccessful finalists in this week’s European Cup. But that’s beside the point. The point was that Khudair felt his vote was a waste of time.

“We see the same candidates and the same political parties in every electoral event,” Khudair explained. “So I refused to vote for them again because they always perform poorly and they are not able to manage Baghdad’s affairs the way they are supposed to.”

Nonetheless, Khudair decided to go his local polling station and claim his ballot paper so that it couldn’t be manipulated or used in any other way. He had heard that this was a possibility, especially in polling stations where there were no electoral observers. So he put a big X on his ballot paper and made his sarcastic joke. Then he went home.

Khudair was not the only Iraqi who felt this way. The latest reports suggest voter turnout of around 51 percent for the provincial elections – despite forecasts to the contrary, this is similar to the turnout for the last provincial elections in 2009. But it seems that plenty of the Iraqis who voted simply wanted to make sure their votes were not misused and turned up only to deface their ballot papers. Damaging or defacing the ballot papers meant that they could not be misused.

The names and symbols for various political parties, blocs and individuals were all printed on the ballot papers. Voters were supposed to put a tick next to the candidate’s name they liked, and then another tick next to a political party or bloc.

Ahmad Rahim, a Baghdad street vendor who mostly sells clothing, said he went to the polling station near his home. “When I got behind the curtain I just put a big cross on my ballot paper,” he explained. “All the political parties in the country are thieves and they are not serving the people. We would be ashamed to re-elect them and give them yet more chances to steal the Iraqi people’s money.”

“I also wrote on the ballot paper,” Rahim adds. “I wrote: You are all thieves. None of you deserves to be elected.”

Many Iraqis who used their ballot papers in this way later used social media sites like Facebook to express pride in their accomplishments – they had been able to vent their feelings and ensured that their votes couldn’t be misused.

Another similar story is told by Baghdad man, Asad Khudair. On the day of the elections he had a fight with his wife and she left the house and fled to her parents’ place. Khudair followed her to his in-laws and his father-in-law helped convince his daughter to forgive her husband. In appreciation, Khudair said he would go to the polling booths and vote for his father-in-law. When he got to the polling booth, he wrote his father-in-law’s name next to that of the various politicians and then ticked it.

“I didn’t even look at the names of other candidates. They mean nothing to me,” he explained.

Other Iraqis, particularly younger Iraqis, launched their own campaigns on social media, calling upon their country people not to vote in the elections. Their reason was that the country has barely improved since 2003.

“For the souls of all the Iraqi dead – and especially for my friend Fanan,” was what one of the young voters wrote on his ballot paper. He says one of his closest friends was killed when a bomb exploded in the Amiriya neighbourhood of Baghdad a day before the elections. The voter than crossed out the names of all of the candidates to express his feelings.

Meanwhile Iraq’s IHEC, the Independent High Electoral Commission, which is responsible for conducting the elections, confirmed that ballot papers that had been defaced, crossed out, had irrelevant comments written upon them or were otherwise used improperly, wouldn’t count toward the final tally.

“Any scratches, words or sentences written on the ballot papers will immediately make them void,” IHEC spokesperson, Safaa al-Musawi, told NIQASH. “Those papers won’t be counted and at the same time the ballot papers cannot be used for manipulating the results. It’s actually a smart thing to do, if voters refuse to give their votes to any candidates,” al-Musawi confirmed.