A series of boycotts is throwing the legitimacy of Iraq’s upcoming election into doubt. The election was originally supposed to take place in June, but was pushed to October 10 due to low registration numbers.
Unfortunately, the extension does not seem to have raised the public’s confidence in the electoral process. Five parties have dropped out of the election in recent weeks, citing concerns about fraud and violence against parties that oppose the sitting government.
“These elections are supposed to bring change, not reproduce the same political class,” said Raed Fahmy, the head of the Iraqi Communist Party’s political bureau. “We will not participate in elections in light of the threats to activists, voters and candidates by armed factions.”
The sitting government has tried to quell concerns about fraud, insisting that the technology being used for the election is secure and will prevent malfeasance. To that end, the country is planning to use a new biometric identification system that is putatively resistant to outside interference. However, opponents have expressed doubts about the people running the system, suggesting that 4 million cards have been forged ahead of the election. Meanwhile, President Barham Salih has suggested that those with older, non-biometric voter cards might not be allowed to vote if they do not update their registrations.
The cards also become irrelevant if opposing parties are too scared to go to the polls. More than 600 protesters have already been killed since October of 2019, and dozens more are believed to have been assassinated. The extrajudicial militias responsible for that violence are yet to face consequences of any kind.
Iraq’s current election system was implemented following the US invasion in 2003, but activists have been pushing for a newer system that will better reflect the interests of the country’s various factions. Three hundred twenty-nine parliamentary seats will be up for grabs in October, with more than 3,243 candidates representing 267 parties and 44 coalitions signing up to run for those seats. The Sadrist movement, the Communist Party, the Iraqi National House, the Iraqi Platform, and the National Dialogue Front are the parties that have withdrawn from the election.
While several countries have already conducted biometric voter registration drives, the pushback in Iraq demonstrates that biometrics alone is not enough to assuage fears about corruption. That’s especially true if those being accused of corruption are the people with access to the biometric registration system. There still needs to be a baseline level of trust between the government and its people, and people may be reluctant to hand over their biometric data and participate if they don’t think their voice will be heard.
Of course, Iraq is not the only country that has struggled with biometric buy-in. Uganda’s biometric identification machines stopped working after the President shut down the internet during an election in January. Brazil also suspended biometric voter registration due to health concerns associated with COVID-19.
Source: Rudaw English
August 5, 2021 – by Eric Weiss