Kingdom’s Iraqi guests set to vote as officials hope for high turnout

74511.jpg By Taylor Luck
AMMAN – Iraqis across Jordan are expected to head to the polls this weekend in the country’s second election since the US-led invasion in 2003.

For many who have been out of Iraq for over half a decade, the election comes as a chance to take a serious role in shaping their country’s future.

“We hope that every Iraqi in Jordan votes in this election,” Iraqi Ambassador to Jordan Saad Hayyani told The Jordan Times on Thursday.

With 16 election centres and over 150 polling stations in Amman, Zarqa, Irbid and Madaba open March 5-7, there will be plenty of time for Iraqis who wish to vote to do so, he said, adding that he expects a peak in voter turnout on Saturday.

“Many Iraqis in Jordan might rest on Friday, or have family commitments. That is why it is important to have the three-day window for them to vote,” he said.

According to Iraqi election officials, the three-day voting period applies to all Iraqis living abroad. Polls in Iraq are set for Sunday.

As various political parties flooded local newspapers and airwaves with advertisements, Iraqis in Jordan said they were watching the situation back home closely to determine whether – and for whom – to cast their ballots this weekend.

Ahmad, an Iraqi Kurd from Suleimaniyah who did not wish to use his real name, said he was looking forward to voting.

“This is my first time voting. I already made my mind up on who I wanted to vote for three weeks ago, now I just want to perform my duty as a citizen of Iraq,” he said.

Rev. Raymond Moussalli, Chaldean vicar in Jordan, said few in his parish have expressed interest in voting after an upswing in violence against Christians in Mosul last month.

“People don’t feel protected,” he said.

Moussalli called for direct proportional representation among the major Christian sects in Iraq – Chaldean, Assyrian and Syrian Catholic – or for the Chaldean patriarch to be directly appointed as a member in the parliament in order to better involve Christian Iraqis in the democratic process.

Abu Yousef, a 42-year-old Chaldean Christian who left Baghdad 10 months ago for safety concerns, said he had failed to find any Christian politicians that would represent him.

“Every country has a hand in our politics. I don’t see anyone who will protect or serve the Christians. I no longer understand the mentality back home,” the father of four said.

Although he and his family in Jordan are not voting, he indicated that his relatives in Baghdad will back the Iraqi National Alliance.

“We need someone strong to protect the Christians. What can we do? We have to rely on strong political parties,” he said.

Bashir, a computer engineer residing in Marka, said although he had given up on the election process following the disbarring of some 400-odd candidates early last month, he has been encouraged to vote by fellow Sunni Iraqis back home in Anbar province.

“If elections started a few weeks ago, there would be no way I would vote. But now I feel like we might actually have a chance to be represented,” he said.

An activist of a political coalition, which he preferred not to name, said he would be among those monitoring the polling centres.

“These elections are important for us to form a new Iraq, one that isn’t dominated by Iran or the US, but Iraqi,” he said, preferring to remain unnamed.

Over 1,000 Iraqis have been enlisted by the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) to man the polling stations, which will be open from 7:00am to 6:00pm, and will send the results electronically to the out-of-country voting centre in Erbil.

Although Jordanian authorities will provide external security for the electoral centres and polling stations, they will not enter the premises, and Iraqis residing in the Kingdom with expired residencies will not be targeted by police, the government has stressed.

Around 180,000-200,000 eligible Iraqi voters reside in the Kingdom, according to various official estimates. In the last parliamentary elections in 2005, around 30,000 Iraqis voted from Jordan.

UNHCR provided IHEC with indirect support, including information on concentrations of Iraqi populations and ages of voters. Official numbers regarding the total number of Iraqis residing in Jordan vary, hovering between 400,000 and 500,000. Iraqis registered as refugees with UNHCR numbered 38,517 as of February 28.