By Nawzat Shamdeen
The people of the long-suffering city of Mosul say they want change. So why won’t they take part in elections?
Over the past few days in Mosul, loudspeakers at mosques in the city were making a different kind of call, other than the usual one calling the Muslim faithful to prayer. In a cooperative project between the Sunni Muslim religious authorities and the Iraqi electoral commission, the new call was aimed at potential voters, telling them to update their information on local electoral rolls. It was something of a turnaround given that, in the past, some mosques here had said elections should be outlawed and that anybody who voted was an infidel.
Electoral rolls in Mosul are way out of date. Leaks from inside the country’s Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, indicate that only around 28 percent of electoral records in Mosul have been updated. Most of those updates are coming out of the southern and western neighbourhoods around Mosul, where around 80 percent of the existing population have registered as voters. The rate is apparently even higher in the Ninawa Plain area, reportedly at 96 percent. Meanwhile the lowest numbers are coming from out of the central city and its surrounding areas.
The question that authorities are now asking: why? There are many demands for changes and improvements in the city but not many Mosul locals seem prepared to vote to make them happen.
One of the biggest barriers to voter turnout is trust: There are rumours in the city that locals are already selling their voter IDs for around US$200 and, as always, there are assumptions that large and powerful political parties will be able to tamper with the ballot boxes.
There’s also a general distrust of local politicians. “Hundreds of thousands nominated Atheel al-Nujaifi in 2009,” says Salim, a young man who wanted only to give his first name. “They did so because he said he would stand up against the Kurdish and prevent them from taking control of Ninawa province. But after he was elected, he quickly made an alliance with Iraqi Kurdistan. During his two terms in office, the situation here in Mosul deteriorated so badly and that dissatisfaction culminated in the arrival of the [extremist group known as the] Islamic State.”
Salim believes that nobody in Mosul has much confidence in any representatives working at the national level. Locally, a voter may be able to extract a favour from a politician, who’s originally from their own tribe or sect, but at federal level, Salim sees no point in making any choice.
The candidates don’t’ have any real programmes, adds Omar al-Enezi, another Mosul local. “They basically just want to get elected to acquire wealth and power.”
Al-Enezi was also critical of the way that his country people make their democratic choices: It’s all about emotions, or sectarian or tribal allegiances, he argued.
That sort of lack of faith in a democratic Iraq was shared by others. “There might be a little bit of fraud and some irregularities but that sort of thing also happens in other countries,” another local, Abdul Salam Musab Jamil told Al Menassa. “The results are not a foregone conclusion and if they are, it is because people don’t participate and they waste their opportunity to make these choices.”
A lot of people in the city use election day as a holiday, he points out. “They travel to Kurdistan for the day to have a good time instead of voting, and then they return to complain about poor services or their lack of rights.”