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Iraq Decides 2021: Citizen’s Views and Concerns

With Iraq’s next parliamentary elections scheduled for October 10, this five-part series highlights the critical voter education and mobilization work that IRI’s partners throughout the country are undertaking. Against a flood of misinformation about Iraq’s electoral system and how ballots are cast and counted, Iraqi citizens distrust many political institutions that have promised to deliver a better future. Conversely, they have failed due to bureaucratic inertia, instability from terrorist groups, and widespread corruption. With 70% of Iraqis under 30 years old, the vast majority of the country knows only what they’ve been told about the former dictator. However, they have seen first-hand that democratic gains are agonizingly slow, poor representation delivers poor services, and a sectarian-based system serves only those who seek to manipulate Iraq’s immense natural resource wealth.

Young people rose up in October 2019 during the Tishreen Revolution – but whether the surge of civic activism and political awareness will translate into increased voter turnout is yet to be seen. Through our programs, IRI works with committed civic organizers and democracy-focused civil society organizations that seek to encourage voter turnout and educate voters about their rights, responsibilities, and the democratic framework under which they live. Here is the first column in a five-part series that highlights citizen empowerment ahead of the October 2021 elections.

 

Sheik Sattar – Leading by Example

 

Sheikh Sattar, 65 years old, joined a dialogue event about Iraq’s upcoming elections with Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and Iraqi civil society organization Al-Haboby Foundation for Iraqi Students and Youth (Haboby) this summer, to discuss the electoral process and why he was skeptical about voting in the upcoming parliamentary elections. He believed that the process was skewed towards well-known parties, particularly those that have illegal, uncontrolled weapons at their disposal.

After a presentation of the voting devices and a simulated process of counting and sorting votes led by the Training Department of the IHEC Governorate Electoral Office (GEO) in Dhi Qar, Sheikh Sattar understood that it is difficult to falsify and manipulate the servers of the counting and sorting device. Moreover, he understood that IHEC intends to release the initial results within 24 hours – a key transparency initiative that caused Sheikh Sattar to have more faith in the process.

Since his perspective had been changed by attending the simulation and showcase, he asked the director of Dhi Qar GEO to host the Training Department in the diwan (traditional gathering hall) of his tribal clan, recognized as one of the largest clans in southern Iraq, to conduct another simulation. This invitation was accepted by the Dhi Qar GEO director and held the next month with the support of Haboby. The event was attended by more than 20 sheikhs.

The meeting was opened by Sheikh Sattar, who spoke about the importance of elections and the need for active participation. The director of Dhi Qar GEO and the head of Haboby voiced their praise for Sheikh Sattar’s call to increase electoral awareness among members of his clan. The attending sheikhs expressed their concerns regarding the integrity of the electoral process and the presence of uncontrolled weapons. After presenting the voting process and counting and sorting devices by the Training Department, there was an observed change in the conviction of many participants.

These sheikhs shifted the tone of their comments, emphasizing the importance of broad electoral participation amongst their communities. Each came away from the dialogue with renewed belief that it will be important for them and their communities to vote, underscoring that seeing is believing. Those who attended the technology demonstrations noted greater trust in the process after the events and felt reassured by the direct and transparent engagement with IHEC representatives.