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Iraq Out-of-Country Voting Underway

The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration says out-of-country voting for Iraqi expatriates is now in full swing in most of the 14 countries where registration took place. IOM officials say voters are generally enthusiastic about participating in their country's first democratic election.

At almost any given moment through Sunday, an Iraqi expatriate might be voting somewhere in the world. The out-of-country voting for Iraq's national assembly began early Friday morning in Australia, then moved on to the Middle East and Europe and finally to North America. The last day of voting takes place on January 30, the day people in Iraq itself go to the polls.

The International Organization for Migration has set up polling centers in 36 cities in 14 countries. About one-quarter of the 1.2 million eligible Iraqis living abroad have registered to vote. IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy says he is not disappointed by this result.

"We think it is very encouraging that more than 280,000 people have turned up to register," he said. "And, when I say we say that we hope that those who have registered will turn up to vote, there is a good reason for that because if they made the effort to register, they probably will make the effort to vote."

Mr. Chauzy says it was very difficult for many Iraqis to register. He explains the whole operation was organized in only 67 days. This means there was no time for people to register by mail. Therefore, they had to arrive at one of the polling places in person. In certain cases, Mr. Chauzy, says Iraqis had to travel long distances.

He says some Iraqis have expressed concern that their safety might be put at risk were they to vote. He says all information is kept strictly confidential and it is highly unlikely that this will end up in the wrong hands. But, he says these fears are minimal and most Iraqis who have registered are keen to participate in the election.

"The colleagues who are working in the 14 host countries, who have worked to register the 280,000 expatriates, tell me that there is a lot of enthusiasm, even elation on the part of those Iraqis who are coming to register for these elections," he said. "They really believe that this is the beginning of a democratic process. They want to take part in that process. And, they firmly believe that their vote can make a difference."

To help inform voters, Mr. Chauzy says the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq has released a list of candidates standing for the National Assembly election. The list can be found on the internet.

Mr. Chauzy says the host countries will count the ballots and send that information on to headquarters in Amman, Jordan. The final result then will be sent on to the Electoral Commission in Baghdad.