Monday, February 16, 2009

Fraud Allegations in the Iraqi Provincial Elections

The Independent High Electoral Commission is poised to announce the final results of Iraq's provincial elections amidst what news sources have called "minor" fraud. The announcements should be out on Tuesday or Wednesday. By most measures the electoral fraud was indeed minor when you consider the background within which the elections were conducted. What matters here, however, is not how the elections hold up to international scrutiny, nor their comparison to any objective standard, but rather how the Iraqis themselves view the elections and their results. On this account, evaluations of the elections are a bit more cloudy.

While the level of fraud may indeed be minor, any tampering is likely to be seen by the losers and their supporters as evidence that they were cheated out of their rightful voice. A report in February 16th's Azzaman newspaper alleged that as many as 250 of the winning candidates in the elections (out of a total of 440) provided forged diplomas when they applied for their candidacy. The electoral law required that candidates have at least a high school diploma, so these winners would be ineligible for their seats on the councils on the face of it.

A council member quoted in the article also stated that the votes of up to 30 election centers in Baghdad, Mosul, and Diyala were discounted due to fraud. It seems that some of these stations' votes were discounted because the voting totals there exceeded 100 percent of the registered voters in the district, indicating that ballot boxes were being stuffed.

While these violations may not have significantly affected the outcome of the election, they will heighten the discontent of those who feel that they have been cheated out of their representation. Even where these feelings are completely unfounded, the hint of irregularities opens the way for people to challenge the validity of the whole process. Accompanied by high handedness of the victors in distributing the spoils or prolonged quarreling over ruling coalitions, these allegations of electoral fraud could be a major incitement toward defection from the political process. In short, while the fraud may be statistically insignificant, it could be turned by wily politicians into a major factor in driving discontented Iraqis to obstruct the political process, to return to violence, or to justify other non-democratic tactics to get their way in the future.

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