Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Statement on the Iraq Election


The Next Century Foundation was the only international election monitoring body to travel extensively in the interior of Iraq before and during the October 15th referendum on the constitutional process. Because of constraints that will become apparent in this report, the Next Century Foundation’s role in the recent December 15th parliamentary elections was not as robust as had been planned, but we were able to monitor the results through an existing team of experienced election observers. This report addresses both the recent elections and the referendum that preceded them (about which an earlier report is also available). The report is broken down into four areas of concern:

1. Concerns over the transparency of the count with regard to Ninevah Province in the aftermath of the referendum on Iraq’s constitution on October 15th 2005.

2. Concerns over the access of Christian and Yezidi minorities to a free and fair vote in the Ninevah plain in January, October and December 2005.

3. Concerns over the transparency of the Baghdad count at the December 15th 2005 election.

4. Concerns over interference in the electoral monitoring process by the Government of the United Kingdom.

1. Concerns over the transparency of the count with regard to Ninevah Province in the aftermath of the referendum on Iraq’s constitution on October 15th 2005.
The Next Century Foundation issued a glowing report on the October 15th referendum on the new constitution in Iraq. We found the enthusiasm for the democratic process awesome and inspiring. We were not blind to the many minor infractions and irregularities including intimidation and ballot stuffing but we felt that these did not detract from what was an excellent effort.

None the less, the Next Century Foundation indicated that we, as a body, had concerns over the Ninevah count and requested further information on that count from the Independent Electoral Commission for Iraq (IECI). We further indicated that if this information was not forthcoming, a further report would be prepared for release by this organisation.

A word about the process: If Iraq’s constitution were to fail at the referendum, three provinces would have been needed to vote against it by a two thirds majority. Two did precisely that. There were conflicting reports as to the proportion of the electorate in Ninevah Province that voted against the constitution. Had Ninevah (capital city Mosul) voted “no” by more than two thirds, the entire constitution would fall. A recount was called for Ninevah.

Whilst Next Century Foundation monitors were progressing through Iraq’s interior, a separate team of election monitors and observers was recruited by the NCF for the eventual centralised national count which was held in Baghdad. Our intention was that these individuals work back-to-back in relays to cover the entire national count in Baghdad. For reasons that were almost certainly a misunderstanding rather than to cover any deliberate fraud, our local team was denied access to the recount of the Ninevah province vote when it took place in Baghdad.

The Next Century Foundation then felt it important to have sight of the detailed records of the recount. All we requested was a list of each of the polling stations in Ninevah Province and a record of what the “yes” vote was and what the “no” vote was at each polling station. The procedure is that each polling station proceeds with its own count and then fills out a form in triplicate, one for its own record, one for the provincial office (in this instance in Mosul) and one for the national office (in Green Zone Baghdad). Site of copies of these forms would have been adequate.

We requested access to details of the recount, or sight of the forms, repeatedly and persistently. Requests were made in writing by e-mail and verbally by telephone. We asked both directly, through the IECI in Baghdad, and indirectly, through the United Nations in Baghdad, the Foreign Office in London and other private individuals of influence and authority. Finally we made a formal request, in writing, to the Head of the IECI and its executive board.

We were given no written response but were in the end told verbally by a representative of the United Nations in Baghdad that the documentation for the Ninevah recount was “in a mess” and that the relevant forms could no longer be found.

It is therefore incumbent on us to state to the public of Iraq that we cannot – as independent election monitors – verify the transparency of the Ninevah recount and must, regrettably, therefore regard this recount as suspect.

2. Concerns over the access of Christian and Yezidi minorities to a free and fair vote in the Ninevah plain in January, October and December 2005.
The Next Century Foundation reported its concerns that minorities had been denied the vote in January 2005 in much of provincial Iraq. We further reported that we had concerns about intimidation of Christian voters in the Ninevah plain in October 2005, particularly with regard to the town of Al Kosh. We are glad to report that we have no evidence that there was further substantive intimidation of Christian voters in the December elections. Indeed we would further report that absolutely no intimidation whatsoever was reported to us by the minority communities of the Ninevah plain, Christian and Yezidi, during the December elections. We regard this as refreshing and heartening.

However, we were also concerned about the possibility that there might be a repeat of the past practice of provision of inadequate numbers of polling stations, resulting in difficulty in access to the vote by the Yezidi minority in Iraq. This was particularly obvious in the Yezidi town of Bashika in the Ninevah Plain (denied the vote in January 2005) which was inadequately served by polling stations in October 2005. We were concerned that the IECI Mosul office might deny permission to the people of Bashika to adequate polling station provision in the December elections. In view of the absence of postal voting in Iraq this would have effectively disenfranchised many of the voters of that town and its hinterland. We wanted to see better electoral provision for minorities in general in Iraq, and for the Yezidi community in particular. We are therefore very glad indeed to be able to report that our concerns proved groundless, at least as far as the Ninevah Plain was concerned. Indeed, polling station provision in the Bashika region was doubled at the December elections (16 polling stations for Bashika). The Mosul IECI office deserves all credit for the excellent way in which it has dealt with this problem. Indeed, not only was there adequate polling station provision for the minorities of the Ninevah Plain, but other problems that have occurred during previous elections were absent, the ballot boxes were delivered on time, and – most importantly - spot checks indicated that the count locally tallied with the count reported nationally.

Other problems reported by the Ninevah Plain minorities, though relatively insignificant, should be mentioned. There were some mistakes on electoral lists (e.g. some voters’ names being reported in neighbouring villages rather than their own village). There was also a problem with access to the vote for Kurds from Mosul relocated to Bashika, Singar and the surrounding villages. A special polling station had been promised to cater for these internally displaced persons, but it was not provided.

3. Concerns over the transparency of the Baghdad count at the December 15th 2005 election.
We had hoped to see greater transparency from the IECI at the Iraq national elections in December. We wish to highlight one area of particular concern. This issue was raised by Iraqi election monitors affiliated to the Next Century Foundation in Baghdad. Their concern is that when tellers transfer data into the computers that are used to total the votes, there is no mechanism available to enable any form of checking or monitoring of their data entries. When accredited election observers asked to be permitted to check such data entries, they were refused permission. Our election monitors were concerned at the level of impartiality – or otherwise – of the computer operators. They are aware that the United Nations subsequently had a team that examined these matters, but they are unable to understand why UN observers were apparently allowed proper access, whilst the fully accredited independent election monitors were hampered – or at least discouraged - in their efforts.

4. Concerns over interference in the electoral monitoring process by the Government of the United Kingdom.
This last concern is unique to the Next Century Foundation. The NCF had an international team from the US, Australia, UK and the Middle East on standby to cover and monitor the elections on December 15th 2005. This team was funded by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, a non governmental body which secures some of its funding from the UK Foreign Office. At the last moment, an embargo was placed on Westminster Foundation for Democracy funding for this exercise in Iraq by the Next Century Foundation. The embargo was put in place by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The ostensible reason given was that the UK Foreign Office would not permit international election monitors to operate in the interior of Iraq who were not embedded with allied troops – allegedly on security grounds.[1]

This action was regrettable, both in its timing and by the off-hand method in which this sanction was imposed which gave the impression of a calculated effort to interfere in the democratic process in Iraq. As it was, it meant the NCF had to employ alternative measures to cover these important elections, relying principally on its team of indigenous election observers to carry out the bulk of the monitoring tasks.

Overall, we regard the December 15th elections to have been fairly conducted -- despite problems overseeing the count in Green Zone Baghdad. Though these problems were regrettable, they had no significant effect on the final outcome.

The Next Century Foundation welcomes correspondence on any issues or concerns from the people of Iraq. We intend to continue monitoring Iraqi elections during the important transitional period ahead. To prevent the difficulties experienced this last December, we will endeavour to enlist fully independent funding to avoid being subject to the extraordinary constraints which threatened to impede our monitoring. Any comments on this report will be gratefully received at NCFIraq@aol.com

Signatories to this report are :
Mr. William Morris, Secretary General, Next Century Foundation
The Hon. Mark Hambley, Trustee, Next Century Foundation

Date: 1st March 2006

[1] The Next Century Foundation has travelled in Iraq extensively for many years now. Latterly we have used election monitors who are predominantly Arab in extraction. We travel with extraordinarily large Iraqi security teams (e.g. Peshmerga provided by the Minister for Peshmerga in Suleimaniyeh for Central Iraq including Kirkuk and by the Deputy Governor of Dohuk for Northern Iraq including the Ninevah Plane). Baghdad is more difficult and we have to make special provision for that city. We travel unannounced – no one knows we are coming. Our security is considerably better than that which could be provided by allied troops who are, sadly, themselves a target. We only normally depend on the generous and kind security of the allied forces when in Southern Iraq.

1 comment:

William said...

We have also received reports from Suleimaniyeh that some ten per cent of the electorate in the Suleimaniyeh and Halabja districts were left off the electoral roll again this time.