Sunday, January 30, 2005

In Name Only

While the images of Iraqis celebrating today's vote were heartening, stories like these show how far removed from actually democracy this election was:
At the Al-Khazrajiya school in the city's old quarter, Najat Ridha, 48, was ushered into a classroom and handed two ballots, one for the national assembly and another for the local provincial council.

An election worker suggested she vote for list 285 headed by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and a local list headed by governor Duraid Kashmula.

She ticked the boxes obligingly and walked out - just as Zahra Ibrahim, 60, did before her.

"I really just did what they asked me to do," she said as the Iraqi national anthem crackled on a loudspeaker in the background.

Similar scenes unfolded at the Al-Fadhila school on the west side as men and women, perplexed over what the list numbers stood for, were offered suggestions and a helping hand by election workers.

"I want to vote for Allawi and Yawar," said a frustrated Fatima Hashim, 50.

Both Dr Allawi and interim President Ghazi al-Yawar, himself from Mosul, head competing lists for seats on the national assembly, but were popular choices in the city because of their high profile.

The lists, which only bear numbers and not candidate names for the most part, were published only two days before.

At a polling station in the New Mosul neighbourhood, Mahasin Ahmed, 37, a school teacher, wanted to vote for Yawar, a tribal leader, but did not know that his list number was 255 and neither did the election worker helping her.

He suggested she vote for list 188 because it had "tribes" in the title.

"I found most of the election workers unqualified and I observed many irregularities," said Guevara Yokhana, 34, a Christian running in the local elections, who visited seven of the 20 polling stations on the city's east side.

He said a lack of ballot papers sparked riots in the town of Qaraqush as thousands of furious Christians and Kurds realised they were unable to vote.

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