UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
SYRIA: More than a quarter of a million Iraqis register for OCV
DAMASCUS, 26 January 2005 (IRIN) - A total of 280,303 Iraqis, living in 14 countries abroad, have registered to vote in the elections in Iraq later this month through the Out-of-Country Voting (OCV) programme arranged by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
In Syria, 16,580 Iraqis out of a working number of up to 400,000 registered to vote. “I’m very happy for the ones who decided to register," Country Director of the Iraq OCV in Syria, Luis Martinez-Bestanzos, told IRIN in Damascus on Wednesday. Polling will only take place in Damascus in 10 polling centres.
The Syrian government signed an agreement on 2 January with IOM to hold the OCV. In just over two weeks between the signing and the start of registration some 1,000 staff have been employed and trained and a large public education campaign was launched.
In total it had been estimated that up to 1 million Iraqis living in countries abroad could be eligible to vote.
“This means they could participate if they want to. We did not know how many of these would come and therefore we definitely established capacity to deal with that 1 million,” Iraq OCV Director Peter Erben, told IRIN in Damascus, during a two-day visit to the country.
Registration, originally scheduled for 17-23 January, was extended by two days. Erben said the extension was intended to give Iraqis more time to register, as the turnout over the first few days had been lower than expected. He attributed this to the Muslim festival of Eid, which marked the end of the Haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, late last week.
According to Erben, the Iraq OCV is about more than just numbers. “It is a matter of giving people the opportunity to participate in building their new country.”
At a cost of US $92 million, Erben said it was important that all Iraqis, many of whom were forced to flee their homeland, have the opportunity to participate in creating the constitution. “Therefore I think the programme of having elections around the world has been an important political signal.”
Erben explained that the 14 countries chosen for the Iraq OCV were selected by the Independent Election Commission of Iraq on the basis of the number of potential voters believed to be in those countries. “There are no registries of the Iraqi diaspora abroad,” he explained. “So when the commission decided on where to hold the event, they were working with relatively weak demographic data,” he added.
Fuad Takarli, Iraqi adviser for the Iraq OCV programme in Syria, said he believed the apparent reluctance of many Iraqis to come forward to vote was understandable. “Conditions (in Iraq) are very complicated,” he told IRIN.
“The important thing is that, these elections, despite the obscure and difficult conditions surrounding them, are an important step for Iraq to take, which will lead to other steps, better by far.”
Iraqis who registered to vote in the Iraq OCV programme have two days to check their names on the voting lists before the polls open for between 28-30 January. People in Iraq will vote on 30 January.
[For breakdown of registration in countries please go to: www.iraqocv.org]
Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Education, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs
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