Everyone expected them and as soon as votes were counted, they began to arrive. Local politicians were charging electoral fraud, saying certain parties ensured polling booth volunteers were their supporters so they
Provincial elections were finally held in the western Iraqi province of Anbar last week. As expected, the results have caused controversy and already accusations of electoral fraud and other wrong doing are being batted back and forth as though the local politicians were playing a tennis game with blame instead of balls.
The elections were already suffering from poor voter turnout because of security conditions in the province. Along with Ninewa, whose provincial elections were also delayed, Anbar has been the centre of most of the major anti-government protests in Iraq recently. There were also threats from extremists and allegations of pre-election political interference; 44 polling stations have already had to have their votes recounted.
At a press conference, the Independent High Electoral commission agreed they had already received a number of complaints from Anbar. IHEC’s website explains that “complaints are reviewed to determine whether they meet the formal requirements for complaints and, if so, if they could affect the results. The complaints that meet these conditions are handled on a priority basis. Other complaints that meet the formal requirements but cannot affect the results are investigated as a lower priority.”
At the press conference, IHEC said they had 107 complaints from Anbar. Of these 43 were green, or lower priority, and 64 were red, or highest priority with the potential to change election results.
One of the major charges comes from independent candidates in the province who have said they believe that political parties with religious underpinnings had volunteers take control of local polling stations and change the results in their favour.
Former deputy chairman of Anbar\'s provincial council, Sadoun Obaid al-Shaalan, who was voted back onto Anbar’s council in these elections, says there were some polling station staff who opened ballot boxes and changed the results to serve certain interests.
“But,” al-Shaalan says, “I’m not going to submit my complaints to IHEC because their Anbar branch is in collusion with the powerful political groups, especially the Islamist blocs.” Instead al-Shaalan says he will submit his charges to Iraq’s highest court because no political pressure should be exerted upon this body.
“Fraud in the election accounts for 70 percent of the votes,” al-Shaalan argued. “Three blocs actually had a plan to have their volunteers dominate the polling booths and then change the results. I can’t reveal who they are though because I don’t want to endanger myself; those politicians are powerful and could have me killed at any time.”
But could this so-called electoral fraud actually even influence the results in Anbar?
Results so far show that the United list, headed by influential Sunni Muslim politician Osama al-Nujaifi, has won the most seats with eight out of 30. Second is the Aabirun coalition headed by incumbent governor Qassim al-Fahdawi, who is allegedly being backed here by Iraqi prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, which won five seats. And then third and fourth respectively were the Iraqiya list headed by Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and the United Iraqiya list, headed by former Prime Minister Ayed Allawi.
As the Iraq blog kept by Washington’s Institute for the Study of War put it: “In Anbar, tribal dynamics and locale trump politics and ideology. Violence in this charged environment will likely continue. The rhetoric leading up to the elections was more sectarian than that which preceded the April 20 elections. This is partly a reflection of electoral strategy to mobilize voters and also in part due to rising sectarianism in Iraq. Nonetheless, the election results will be crucial for the Iraqi Sunnis. From 2003 until 2009, Anbar was the political capital of the Iraqi Sunnis. That changed after the 2009 elections when the Nujaifi brothers emerged as a formidable power. Therefore, the results achieved by the Nujaifi brothers will be an important gauge of their influence before the 2014 national elections.“
However those numbers, readily accepted by the al-Nujaifi-led United bloc for obvious reasons, are being hotly contested by almost all of the other parties.
“The politicians who say they have seen fraud and who are making these accusations are just trying to justify their own losses,” Mathar al-Janabi, from the United List, told NIQASH. “The election supervisors, observers from the media and IHEC were all very much present in Anbar and they all saw how things went very smoothly. There is no fraud.”
In fact, al-Janabi explained that the amount of seats that the United list won doesn’t reflect its real popularity. “Many of the anti-government protestors support the United list but they’re stuck in protest camps near Ramadi and were unable to cast their votes because military units have imposed a siege on them.”
In the meantime, another leading member of the United bloc says the party is preparing to put a religious, Sunni Muslim in the governor’s chair. They say that the desired candidate is one Yahya Ghazi al-Mohammedi, who belongs to the political party led by controversial, fugitive Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.