Thursday, October 20, 2005

Free and Fair and Fudged?

You might want to read the previous post first as it was originally going to be the introduction to this one. As you've probably already heard, the announcement of the results of the constitutional referendum in Iraq have been delayed due to concerns over voting irregularities. Regular readers will probably realise that my shock on hearing this news was entirely non-existent.

This didn't stop the US administration jumping the gun and announcing that the constitution had been accepted before having to retract that assertion in the face of criticism from the Independent Electoral Commision of Iraq (IECI) and the United Nations Election Assistance Team. Still, Condoleezza's claim was widely reported so the idea that there was a definite yes vote has been circulated nice and early. Clever really, in an obviously morally currupt way of course.

It seems that the it's the result from the province of Nineveh which is causing the greatest concern. This is not really surprising; Nineveh, containing Mosul, is generally thought to have a Sunni majority but is under the control of the Kurdish authorities. That was always likely to pose something of a problem. It's also the only province to have had its "results" declared publicly (although not officially) as far as I can tell. These first unofficial results showed an overwhelming support for the constitution:
326,000 people voted for the constitution and 90,000 against. Those figures were said to be based on results from more than 90 percent of the 300 polling stations in the province.
A litle bit too overwhelming in fact. These figures have now been updated to include the final 10% of polling stations. According to the US military "the final totals for the province were 424,491 "no" votes and 353,348 "yes" votes". That's a fairly major swing by any account but it's not enough to reach the two thirds majority needed for the province to count as having rejected the constitution. The voters at those last 10% of polling stations must have voted overwhelmingly against the constitution. How strange that they took longer to count than the "yes" votes of other stations.

And these new results are not exactly uncontroversial. Turnout in Ninehev was apparently less than 60% even though turnout in other Sunni regions was far higher. And the 353,348 yes votes appear difficult explain. In the January elections, Shite and Kurdish groups recieved a total of 130,000 votes for their parties. The extra 220,000 yes votes for the constitution are not easily understood. Minority groups? Sunnis who support the constitution? Hmm, it doesn't seem hugely likely. All in all, it looks as if the Kurdish authorities in Nineveh may have encouraged a "yes" vote in some rather dubious ways.

To be fair, it's really too early to draw any concrete conclusions yet though, there's just not enough information available at this stage. It's probably best to wait and see what happens when the result is officially declared. As I said in a previous post, some respected observers thought it quite possible that there were enough supporters of the constitution in Iraq as a whole for there to have been a "yes" vote even without these irregularities.

BTW, informed commentator on Iraq, Juan Cole, has also highlighted the Gareth Porter article linked above. His opinion is that it is "extremely perceptive".

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