Big turnout for Iraqi provincial elections

02 Feb 2009

image A voter casts his ballot in Fallujah. (Photo:ASWAT AL-IRAQ.)

Baghdad – The vote for the provincial elections taking place in Iraq over the weekend saw a healthy turnout, due in large part to the successful media and voter outreach strategies of the Iraqi election authorities.

“An important part of Iraq’s preparation for the Provincial Elections was to let the voters know what their rights are and how and where the voting takes place,” Paolo Lembo, UNDP’s country director for Iraq, said. “I am pleased that UNDP, together with our UN sister agencies, contributed to the success of the Iraqi Provincial Elections,” he added.

The ballots, taking place in 14 of the country’s 18 governorates on Saturday, saw a turnout of 51 percent, according to figures from the Iraqi Independent High Election Commission (IHEC). There was no voting in the three provinces of the northern semi-autonomous Kurdish region, while it was postponed in Kirkuk province. In total, more than 14,000 candidates ran for 440 seats on the provincial Councils.

As part of the UN-led International Election Assistance Team (IEAT), UNDP supported the Iraqi election authorities in establishing guidelines for media interactions during the vote. This included accreditation procedures, guidelines enabling safe access to polling stations by journalists using electronic recording equipment, and a policy for election officials at the governorate level to engage with the press and give interviews.

A number of tools were developed to facilitate this, such as local language translations of UNESCO’s Guide to Reporting Elections, workshops with media professionals and IHEC officials on the rights of journalists to cover the elections in safety, and a major information campaign targeting journalists.

Last summer, over 50 media professionals and IHEC officials came together in Baghdad to examine electoral procedures, and a nationwide campaign was launched to highlight the right of the media to report on the elections safely.

“An independent and critical press informing the electorate is a prerequisite for a thriving democracy, and part of UNDP’s support involved facilitating dialogue between election officials and media professionals on their respective rights and responsibilities,” Lembo noted

Specialists from UNDP also assisted in raising public awareness of the Provincial Elections through innovative multimedia platforms. For this election, the  voter outreach campaigns featured YouTube infomercials, blogs, a new IHEC website (www.ihec.iq) and a popular cartoon character teaching voters about the ballots.

The character, named Abu Mutar, appeared in an animated banner on several internet sites, including Iraq’s most popular web-based e-mail service during December and January.

As the Iraqi Constitution mandates that at least 25 percent of the country’s elected officials should be women, the UN development agency supported a grass-roots NGO and media campaign promoting women’s participation as candidates and voters.

The Provincial Elections marked the start of a series of popular ballots in Iraq this year, culminating in a parliamentary vote this fall.