Iran Turnout Key To Expat Vote
By Bill Samii
As expatriate voting for Iraq's national elections began in 14 countries on 28 January, focus shifted to the turnout in Iran, which has the largest Iraqi diaspora.
An estimated 200,000 live in Iran, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that the country has 100,000 to 120,000 eligible Iraqi voters. Of that number, a total of 60,908 registered in Iran, according to IOM.
Nearly 1.3 million Iraqis live outside the country, according to Iran's Al-Alam television on 22 January, and some 600,000 Iraqis live outside the country as refugees, according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 (http://www.refugees.org/wrs04/country_updates/middle_east/Iraq.html).
While the number of Iraqis who registered in Iran are not staggering, the numbers compare well to those in other states neighboring Iraq.
The head of the IOM's Out-of Country Voting program in Iran, Kate Pryce, said on 26 January that she was "extremely pleased" with the number of Iraqi expatriates in Iran who registered from 17-25 January, AFP reported.
In all, 280,303 Iraqis registered in the 14 countries where voting is taking place (Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States).
There have been suggestions that voter-registration could have been more successful in Iran, however. Seyyed Mohsen al-Hakim, an official with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, had warned on 11 January that there was an insufficient number of registration facilities in Iran, IRNA reported. He also complained about excessively restrictive eligibility requirements for Iraqis wanting to vote in Iran.
There were two registration places in Tehran, two in Qom, one in Urumiyeh (West Azerbaijan Province), one in Kermanshah, two in Ahvaz (Khuzestan Province), one in Shush (Khuzestan Province), and two in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
Iranian state radio and television encouraged Iraqis to register to vote. One of these Iraqis told Radio Farda this week that he and his compatriots were registering not only because of their interest in the election but because they wanted to help their country. Another Iraqi living in Iran told Radio Farda that he would vote in order to guarantee the independence and freedom of his country. He added that he wanted Iraqis to live with the same tranquility and comfort that exists in other countries.
One young man who was not even born in Iraq told Radio Farda that they would vote so they have a stake in Iraq's future. And another one explained that Iraq is his country.
A third Iraqi, who works as a trader in the Tehran bazaar, told Radio Farda: "The best thing I can do is participate in the elections, because the future of an independent Iraq is in our hands. If we do not go and vote then it is finished and gone."
Worldwide, the numbers of people who registered at 75 official voter centers fell short of expectations.
An Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah official and Iraqi immigration officials in Iran and Denmark discussed some of the possible reasons for low turnout in a talk show on Al-Alam television on 22 January. Among the possible reasons were the Eid Al-Adha holiday, the long distance between where people lived and the registration offices, the failure of political parties to explain their election programs, and the expense of transportation.
In Jordan, 20,166 people registered at 11 locations to vote in the election. The "Al-Ra'y" newspaper reported on 22 January that there are about 200,000 Iraqis living in Jordan.
In Syria, 16,581 registered to vote at 10 locations, all of which were in Damascus. "Al-Hayat" reported on 15 January that the Syrian government refused to permit the distribution of Kurdish-language literature encouraging participation in the election.
In Turkey, 4,187 registered at two locations in Istanbul and one in Ankara.
In the United Arab Emirates, with one location in Dubai and another in Abu Dhabi, 12,581 people registered to vote.
In Australia, 11,806 people registered; 10,957 in Canada; 12,983 in Denmark; 1,041 in France; and 26,416 in Germany. In the Netherlands 14,725 people registered to vote; 31,045 in Sweden; 30,961 in the United Kingdom; and 25,946 in the United States.
According to Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Order No. 96, a voter must be deemed an Iraqi citizen, be entitled to reclaim Iraqi citizenship, or be eligible for Iraqi citizenship (be born to an Iraqi father). Furthermore, a voter must be born before 31 December 1986.
One could prove nationality with the following Iraqi documents: a personal identity card, a retirement identity card, an Iraqi nationality book, a nationality certificate, an Iraqi passport, or a military service book.
Eligibility could also be proved by showing a marriage contract, an official study certificate issued by an official Iraqi university, or a deed of property. Only people who brought two official documents (or three of the latter type of documents) were allowed to register.
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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