Iraqi expats begin casting their votes
28 January 2005 , AMMAN - More than 280,000 registered Iraqi expatriates in 14 countries, including Germany, began casting their votes on Friday, two days before polls officially open in Iraq itself. Including Germany, some 74 centres in Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States will be open from 07:00 until 17:00 local time over the three days of out-of-country (OCV) polling. According to the Internati
28 January 2005
AMMAN - More than 280,000 registered Iraqi expatriates in 14 countries, including Germany, began casting their votes on Friday, two days before polls officially open in Iraq itself.
Including Germany, some 74 centres in Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States will be open from 07:00 until 17:00 local time over the three days of out-of-country (OCV) polling.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) coordinating the OCV programme, Iraqi expatriates in Australia, where over 11,000 Iraqis will vote at nine centres, were the first to cast their votes in the landmark poll.
Polling centres in the Middle East and Europe also opened as the day progressed.
"Everything is going fine so far," said IOM spokesperson Monique de Groot in Jordan, where more than 20,000 registered Iraqis began voting under heavy security measures. Iraqi authorities have closed the border with Jordan ahead of the ballot process, informed sources said.
Officials said a weak turnout for early polling was probably due to Friday prayers, adding that they expected numbers to pick up over the weekend.
Those voters who did make it out appeared delighted to do so. "I am very glad to cast my vote," said 60-year-old Lamia Jamal. "It is a historic day for all Iraqis."
In Germany, voting was conducted under strict security, but an atmosphere of excitment prevailed and many voters came to polling stations dressed in their finest traditional Arab or Kurdish clothes.
In Berlin, teacher Nisrim Matuk, 42, who fled Saddam Hussein's regime more than 20 years ago, called the elections "a great step in the direction of democracy".
Jakob Preuss, the director of the Berlin polling station, said he hoped that up to 1,000 people would vote by the end of the day. "Or else it's going to be pretty crowded on Saturday and Sunday," he said.
Meanwhile in Syria, polling centres in the Damascus suburbs of Rukin al- Dein, Barzeh and Jaramana were emblazoned with posters and leaflets calling expat Iraqis to vote.
"My Iraqi brother - vote for whomever you please. You are free," read one caption.
Just 16,850 of an estimated 200,000 Iraqis living in Syria had registered to vote, a scenario repeated worldwide in the 9-day registration period.
Analysts have attributed the relatively low registration numbers to a combination of voter apathy, misinformation and fear that personal information may, in the case of Iraqis living illegally in other countries, be passed on to the authorities.
Despite the best efforts of the IOM to assuage these fears, only 280,303 of the estimated 1.2 million expat Iraqis eligible for the OCV process have registered.
Fears of insurgent attack may also keep significant numbers at home in Iraq itself on Sunday.
"Voting in Syria is much safer than voting in Baghdad," said Musaab al-Dafee at the Jaramana polling station just south of the Syrian capital. "If I were in Iraq, I might hesitate to cast my ballot."
In Iran, where 60,000 have registered to cast their vote, a central polling station in Teheran Bazaar was reported to be extremely busy, while other centres in Mashad, Orumieh, Kermanshah, Ahvaz and the holy city of Qom were also brisk.
Many voters, mainly Shiite Muslims, said they would support the candidates loyal to Iraqi spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Sistani, but refrained to say if they would prefer an Iranian-style model of governance in Iraq.
"We will respect the voice of the majority," said Karim, 29. "What is important is peace and stability and an end to the military presence of allied forces in our country."
Voter registration was relatively high in Scandinavia, with Danish authorities estimating that up to two thirds of eligible expats had ensured their names were on the voter list. Officials from the polling centre in Copenhagen said they expected to see up to 10,000 Denmark-based Iraqi voters as well as some 3,000 from southern Sweden.
Centres also opened in the Swedish cities of Stockholm and Gotheburg to cater for the estimated 31,000 Iraqis living in northern Sweden, Norway and Finland who will cast their votes over the three days.
Registration numbers were however disappointing in Britain, where around a fifth of the 150,000 eligible Iraqi voters in the country had registered to cast their ballots amid extremely tight security.
Of the 30,961 Iraqi expatriates who took part in registration proceedings, 16,184 were in London, 13,444 in Manchester and 1,333 in Glasgow, Scotland's second city.
In London, an Iraqi voter who had brought his small son along to The polling centre, said: "We are here to ensure our son's future, and also to say 'no' to all the terrorist activities which try to prohibit people from doing this."
Across the channel, IOM officials reported that early voting had been "very, very calm" in France, where just over 1,000 Iraqis have registered to vote at a centre set up in Paris.
Subject: German news