Was the Vote on the Iraqi Constitution Fixed?

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"It wouldn’t surprise me if the election was rigged," said a U.S. Army officer in Mosul who requested anonymity from Time and who worked on security arrangements for the poll with Iraqi security and election officials. "I don’t even trust our election process."

If democracy is supposed to provide legitimacy to government — what does a fraudulent election provide? The U.S. occupation, already suffering a host of problems — false reasons for the invasion, lack of international support, waning support in the U.S., Abu Ghraib prison scandals, the Fallujah attack, the killing of civilians, a strengthening insurgency, lack of support by former generals and foreign service officers, and generals on the ground saying the presence of U.S. troops is increasing the strength of the insurgency — now has a voting scandal on its hands.

For many of us who work on democracy issues in the United States the specter of President Bush bringing democracy to the world has always been ironic. The President was appointed by a politicized 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision after the vote count was stopped in Florida — when the vote count was completed by media outlets it showed Vice President Al Gore had won. Yet, the President in his second inaugural promised to bring democracy to countries where it does not exist. And, he insists we continue to occupy Iraq in order to bring democracy to that much-beleaguered country.

The vote on the proposed new Iraqi Constitution was critical to President Bush’s efforts. It was a vote the administration had to win to prevent a large increase in opposition to Iraq in Congress. But now, the vote count has been delayed in the midst of claims of unusual results in some critical Iraqi provinces.

The Constitution can be defeated either by not receiving majority support nationally or by being opposed by two-thirds of voters in three governorates. It appears that two predominantly Sunni Arab governorates, Anbar and Salaheddin, have voted against the constitution by a two-thirds vote according to press reports.

The provinces of Diala and Ninawah, which are ethnically mixed but thought to be majority Sunni, may be decisive in determining whether opponents of the draft have the two-thirds majority needed to defeat it. In Diala early returns showed 55 percent opposed — within the credibility of the mixed electorate.

More controversial are reports that up to 70 per cent of the voters in Ninawah voted "yes," a tally that some local Sunni Arab politicians say does not correspond with reports that they received on election day. According to the Financial Times, Saleh al-Mutlek, a Sunni politician and prominent opponent of the charter, said that in the provincial capital of Mosul, carloads of Iraqi National Guards had seized ballot boxes from a polling station and transferred them to a governorate office controlled by Kurds. "There is a scheme to alter the results" of the referendum, he claimed. Other Sunnis have claimed members of the main Shia and Kurdish parties in some governorates had filled out blank ballots and stuffed them into boxes after the polls closed resulting in unusually high numbers of voters.

In the constitutional vote huge discrepancies were reported in the Nineveh governorate, whose capital is Mosul. Sources close to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) said that 55% of the voters there voted against the constitution, Abd al-Razaq al-Jiburi, the secretary general of the Iraqi Independent Front said, "I have been informed by an employee of the electoral high commission in Mosul that the voting for the constitution has been u2018no.’" He added, according to reporter Dahr Jamail, that his sources within the IEC said the "no" vote in Nineveh ranged between 75—80%.

On September 30, historian and national security expert Gareth Porter wrote: "it now appears very likely that the document will be defeated by a two-thirds majority in the three Sunni-dominated provinces of Anbar, Salahadeen and Nineveh, plunging Iraq into a new political crisis." He went on to write: "However, one way such a defeat could be averted is by massive vote fraud in the key province of Nineveh. According to an account provided by the US liaison with the local election commission, supported by physical evidence collected by the IEC, Kurdish officials in Nineveh province tried to carry out just such a ballot-stuffing scheme in last January’s election." He describes how the US was dependent on Kurdish militia to deliver ballots resulting in ballots being denied to non-Kurdish areas as well as massive ballot stuffing resulting in the election of Kurdish officials.

Iraq’s Independent Electoral Commission ordered an audit of "unusually high" results in certain governorates, but added that such "anomalies" did not imply fraud or wrongdoing. Early numbers from the Associated Press — which aren’t endorsed by the Electoral Commission — showed almost twice as many "yes" votes for the constitution as the total number of voters in January’s elections for the National Assembly. Late on Monday, the commission said a final vote count, which had been expected by the end of this week, would be delayed a few days in order to "recheck, compare and audit" results. Poll officials said tallies of more than 90 per cent either for or against the document would be subjected to special scrutiny.

Driving doubts are results that do not pass the straight face test. In Ninevah initial reports claimed 75 percent favored the Constitution. This is a majority Sunni Province. Making it less believable were the results in neighboring province, Salaheddin, were 71 percent were voting against the Constitution. The two provinces are similar, both with Sunni Arab majorities.

In some jurisdictions press reports indicate 99 percent support for the Constitution — numbers so astounding that they are reminiscent of the votes in favor of Saddam Hussein in previous Iraqi elections!

The questions about whether there was vote fraud are serious, but will probably not be resolved to the satisfaction of many. As a result Sunni’s are likely to discount the vote and the violence is unlikely to abate. Time reports some Sunni views: "We have proved we are against the constitution," said Mishaan al-Jubouri, a Sunni legislator from the Liberation and Reconciliation Party. "The Sunni Arabs will reject this constitution totally."

"It will be very difficult to convince people to come back to the political process," said Saleh Mutlaq, a member of the National Dialogue Council, a Sunni group that strongly opposed the constitution. "People will be disappointed that their voices mean nothing." That will be bad for Iraq, "and for the people occupying it," he added ominously.

Ratifying this constitution was more important to the Bush agenda than to Iraqis. It was conducted on a U.S. timetable, not an Iraqi timetable. Yet, in the end, it will not solve the Bush Administration’s problems — in fact it will make them worse.

Sadly, the vote on the Iraqi Constitution, whose legitimacy was already a problem because it was conducted without any international monitors, changes were being made up until the last days before the vote and many Iraqis did not even see the document they voted on, is now been made worse by the questions about whether the vote was fixed to meet U.S. needs. In the future, Iraqis will see that they have given up their oil wealth, their national identity and their secular government based on the very fragile foundation of a potentially fraudulent vote.

Kevin Zeese [send him mail] Director of Democracy Rising visited Camp Casey in Crawford, TX on August 27. You can comment on this article by visiting the blog.

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